Taking It Back Home

Valentino showed in Milan. Was there a real advantage?

It isn’t absolutely clear why Pierpaolo Piccioli chose to show Valentino in Milan when the brand had stayed on the Paris calendar for 13 years. Sure, Mr Piccioli is Italian, and so is the brand’s founder. This, therefore, could be a homecoming for him and the house. In view of the on-going pandemic, some reports called it being “in solidarity with Italy”. Or, could it be that he’s been home all this while and that it was more practical to simply present the latest collection on home turf or the un-grand space of what is the (disused?) Fonderie Macchi outside Milan? But could it be something else, too? If the “Collezione Milano” is any indication, could it be because it does not really befit a Paris showing? Did Mr Piccioli want to be among his compatriots, showing the home-friendly styles that are thought to be what fashionistas would want as domestic life is wedded to professional obligations?

Valentino, like so many other brands in this Milan season, is pushing for the “new normal”, a socio-economic state that suggests people are likely to align themselves, for a while to come, with the more mundane aspects of life. In terms of fashion, that could be akin to everything we know as lounge wear. Or, for fashion folks, clothes that could stand up for Zooming while the kids are in front of another screen doing their school work. Even when we are now able to restore some semblance of social life physically, we are still not yet receiving invitations to events that require one whole afternoon of prepping and prettifying. Mr Piccioli seemed well aware of the present—and near future—realities, and Valentino this season seemed to suggest they understand and can respond to this quandary.

It was strange watching Valentino this toned-down. Some of us still remember the aerial couture show from just two months ago. How transfixing! This season was, for some of us viewers, a rapid descend to living reality, with an audible thud. It isn’t that the clothes were unattractive, but they did not arouse as they usually did. The romance and passion and the sumptuousness so often associated with Mr Piccioli’s work for the house were diminished. This was Valentino distilled. A reduction that brought us to the brand at its most basic and, consistent with the times, essential. Or, should that be introspective? If there ever was a need for Valentino Basics, this would have been it. In fact, at times during the show, we thought we were seeing pieces from the diffusion line Red Valentino.

It has not happened to us in the past, but this time, we spotted a simple shirt. Yes, it was in a hot pink, but it was still simple. Even Inès de La Fressange’s collaboration with Uniqlo does not yield this simple! Sure, it was baggy, it had a rather massive collar, and it could be worn to suggest a no-pants look (better to appeal to young influencers?), but it projected something just about bare-bones, which is kind of at odds with the image we have of the brand. Through the years since Mr Piccioli took on the stewardship of the house singly, we have been enamoured with the extravagance and resplendence that he had produced. Has it been to the point that we had completely shut our eyes to the unadorned and straightforward, like a shirt?

Now that we could see Valentino at its barest, presented in a setting that was just as stripped-down, were we witnessing a house in a vulnerable position? Presently, nobody knows where luxury brands are heading. Many are dialed to survival mode. In the case of Valentino, back to basics seemed like a good place on which to reset. Obvious were the foundational pieces such as shirts and jeans—the recession-proof, all-occasion pants. The denim slacks were produced in collaboration with Levi’s, and were based on 1961’s boot-cut style, the 517. This was not the Junya Watanabe take on the 501. Valentino’s iteration of the 517 was a lot more straightforward, a lot more vanilla: pants to ground the sheer, slouchy blouses; (faded) blues to make the ensembles look real.

Valentino’s evening dresses have always been those that many look forward to. They are, as the fashion cliché goes, “the stuff of dreams”. This time, they appeared to be so within reach that they seemed more for the living room of a bungalow or the garden than the red carpet or the steps of the Met Gala. They are flowy, with some ruffles, and they are gossamer and ethereal, but many have a housecoat ease about them that recall those ’70s kaftans worn for entertaining at home, such as the one Meryl Streep had on in a pivotal scene in 2017’s The Post. Perhaps, in times of uncertainty, we can dream in Valentino, rather than dream of.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Valentino

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