By Raiment Young
If Valentino women’s wear boutique is the totem of unabashed femininity, then I think the newly opened men’s store is a bastion of masculinity. This is, of course, not a regular bloke’s perception of maleness for which fashion has little purpose other than to clothe. Yet, Singapore’s first Valentino Uomo store is rich with symbolism of what can be considered manly, but the interpretation speaks more to an open mind than true alpha-male disposition.
Disobliging those who expect a traditional men’s wear store—gentlemen’s club or quasi-auto mechanic’s workshop vibe, the Italian house has created a rather light and airy space that is evocative of a Roman villa (even Turkish bath!). Tough-looking grey terrazzo walls; white, broken floor tiles; green marble slabs; and blond wood come together with the same delight usually witnessed in a bunch of buddies at a beer fest, minus the rowdiness.
The military flourishes that Valentino Uomo has come to be known for are seen only on the merchandise. Just like me, you can’t escape the signature camouflage even if you try not to be seduced by it—too much of a good thing can get to you, just as alcohol at a point always does. It is really to the credit of design directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli that a potentially florid pattern, almost overused by street-wear brands aiming to augment their urban cred, can be coaxed to give so much to their relaxed luxe.
My first visit to a Valentino men’s wear store was in Hong Kong back in 2014. Situated in the basement level of the Landmark (the still-haute attraction for brand-name shopping in the SAR), Valentino Uomo stood in full command in a garrison of luxury brands fighting for shopper attention. It had relocated from another location in the same building, where, when it first opened in 2011—touted as Asia’s first—it attracted a huge celebrity turnout that included movie and IG star Huang Xiaoming, also China’s most-watched fashion peacock, and a target of marketing heads at the big European houses. By then, Ms Chiuri and Mr Piccioli had turned a previously conservative men’s line into one that convincingly straddled high fashion and street casualness.
At the new HK store, what was particularly attractive to me was a heather-gray sweatshirt with a tone-on-tone camouflage treatment that, from afar, looked three-dimensional. The random shapes were, as I saw, a clever interplay of print and heat-bonded appliqué (this season, the same technique is applied to denim and felt). By then, the camouflage print had become quite a Valentino Uomo signature, having been applied extensively on their best-selling sneaker, the Rockrunner. As I looked further inwards, it was clear the store’s buyers consider the camouflage a very profitable print.
Over in Rome last Christmas season, a visit to Valentino’s spacious flagship store on Piazza di Spagna brought me into the thick of camo-overload. The minute I touched a black, backpack in tri-textured camouflage print to admire its matte-shine effect, the attentive salesman jumped next to me to open the bag so that its gut could be admired. When I told him I wasn’t planning to buy another item with all-over camouflage print, he said, in an accent I was certain was blessed by the Roman gods to encourage romance and procreation, “Our camouflage is special and it is best seller.” I shot him a smile that should have read “That’s why I don’t wish to have it” but had not.
Valentino Uomo’s spring/summer 2016 collection. Photos: Valentino
To be sure, military references have always been strong at Valentino Uomo: the combat shirts, the commando sweaters, the cavalry jackets, and those colours that suggest you’ve been spending too much time in a trench-as-listening-post. This season, however, you sense that a war veteran has gone for a holiday and returned with some cheerful threads from a land where pineapple is both economic crop and fashion motif. That’s the odd appeal of the brand: it is not circumscribed by a fixed definition. Just as you thought that nothing can be more masculine than a military training suit, a gaudy Hawaiian shirt—more Tom Selleck than Tom Ford—is thrown in the mix.
Valentino Uomo is at B1-7, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Photos: excepted indicated, Galerie Gombak