Valentino’s latest haute couture shows why Pierpaolo Piccioli is the undisputed master
Valentino himself once said, “I love beauty. It’s not my fault.” His successor Pierpaolo Piccioli loves the drama of beauty, and it’s really not his fault either. For the Valentino autumn winter haute couture collection, shown weeks away from the Paris calendar, Mr Piccioli engaged the British photographer Nick Knight as film-maker and the result is otherworldly and quite simply stunning. It’s the only label of the season to show that haute couture indeed deserves to be this exalted. This was the front-row seat we were promised but not delivered, till now.
Film in a darkened movie studio in Rome, with only the white (or off-white?) gowns illuminated, the video, Of Grace and Light, would elicit responses that result from the sheer marveling at its content. Mr Piccioli designs with authority and scale, and Mr Knight took them to greater heights—quite literally. For the models, this could have been an American Next Top Model “challenge”, only less death-defying! Whether swinging on a hoop or a fly bar, or standing aloft on (presumably) a ladder, the towering models were way above the usual landed requirement of duty.
The literalists would take the clothes to be designed for stilt walkers. Yet, the cirque reference is not so far-fetched since there were some sort of flying trapeze acts, which were more magical than perilous. In the first (of the two-part) video, glitches were deliberately created or left unedited, as if the transmission was bad, as if the digital work was jinxed, as if to puncture the perfection that haute couture has come to stand for. And yet, models flew in the air to enhance the ephemeral, almost angel-like quality of the dresses. A few of the gowns were canvases on which visuals of oversized blooms were protected onto, adding to the romanticism that Mr Piccioli’s couture tends to project, and, at the same time, transmit the techie bits that a digital show is expected to have.
Then, after a unnecessarily long intermission, the camera pulled back to show the dresses in their full-length glory. Mr Piccioli not only create those exaggerated shapes he is known for, but also illustrated that sumptuous elegance need not only be achieved with a surfeit of decoration. During the lockdown of previous months, many couture beaders and embroiders were in home quarantine (perhaps not the Valentino plummasiers). Limited by the availability of his petite mains (little hands), Mr Piccioli did not scale down the perception that such clothes are only possible with human touch, still a bane in the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19. Instead, he scaled up vertically, proving that haute couture, even during a pandemic, can ascribe to loftier ideals.
To be sure, this video subscribed to the belief—and tradition—that couture has a fantasy element about it, and panders to women who feed on such a fantasy. Yet, this wasn’t about even the most special occasion there could be to wear such gowns, but the artistry that could seriously fade to extinction if not encouraged and celebrated. Mr Piccioli did not just make more pretty dress; he made them monumental, as if they were pliable sculptures that paid homage to the limitless possibilities of the art of dressmaking. This was standing tall for haute couture.
It goes without saying that the gowns would eventually be scaled down (or shortened) for the Valentino customer. It is interesting to note that two former colleagues have presented couture dresses on the opposite end of the scale. Dior’s Maria Grazai Chiuri presented doll-sized gowns, while Mr Piccioli counterpointed with lengths that could be too long for even Amazons. And both dabbled with notions of what are deemed romantic, yet the presentations were equally on opposite ends, one fairytale-like, the other stark, black and white modernity. Haute couture presentations this season have been ephemera of a transitional time, but Valentino proposes that perhaps beauty can indeed last. And, thus, loved.
Screen grabs: Valentino/YouTube