…was a show Dior didn’t like: It was one of Valentino’s most exuberant presentations
This month, seven years ago, Fendi staged its autumn/winter 2016 couture show at Rome’s Trevi Fountain. It was the Italian brand’s 90th anniversary. The show, featuring 46 looks of then designer Karl Lagerfeld, was staged on a see-through plexiglass runway that was stretched across Rome’s most famous fountain. The models sashaying down the stage looked like they were walking on water. The semi-circular area in front of the Trevi Fountain is not a wide expanse, so on this occasion, it was unsurprisingly packed with show-goers. Up in the terrace, there were almost no noticeable retail store that overlooked the fountain except one familiar name: United Colours of Benetton. The brand made no mention of the operating conditions that day. It is possible that the area was cordoned off, and shoppers had no or limited access to the store. Did Benetton demand payment from Fendi for loss of sales as the access to the former’s shop was “hampered”? Did they even dare consider it?
About 1.8 kilometres away from the Trevi Fountain (or roughly eight minutes by foot) is the Spanish Steps, another famous site of this ancient city. On the 135-step, 29-metre high, 297-year-old stairway that was last refurbished in 2015/16, Valentino unveiled their autumn/winter 2022 couture collection. While many watching the spectacular show, whether at the venue or online, was nervous that the models might fall (some tripped), having to descend from the very top in rather windy conditions, elsewhere, managers of competitor brand Dior were taking note of the disruption to the business of their store right across from the Spanish Steps, and a drop in footfall. On the very night of the show, the retail manager of Christian Dior Italia reportedly sent Valentino a letter—seen by the trade paper WWD—to demand €100,000 as compensation that was to be paid in 15 days. This move surprised many. When the news broke, many attendees were asked on social media if they thought the show did indeed hamper Dior’s retail business. No one could say for sure it was, or willing to. Dior’s reaction affirm, again, the rivalrous nature of the business of fashion.
The Valentino show went on without a hitch. The clothes, more wearable than usual, bore no aesthetical semblance to what was worn by the two people most associated with the stairway: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in the ice cream scene of Roman Holiday (1953). On those Steps, a reported 102 models descended to the live music of the British singer Labrinth (aka Timothy Lee McKenzie), wearing colours that Pierpaolo Piccioli is partial to from the time he took over the sole creative reign of the house in 2016: Bright. With the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti in the background catching the recessing evening glow, the models looked like they have skipped mass to gingerly go down the steps for a party somewhere in the Piazza di Spagna. In fact, the runway did not end at the base of the stairway. It continued to the left, past the house where the English poet John Keats lived in the 19th century and, opposite, Dior stores (men’s and women’s), and the Valentino store in the corner of the block, and onto the label’s headquarters in the Palazzo Gabrielli Mignanelli, before turning left again to some holding area. A group of the models, in fact, went back up to the top of the hill to emerge again down the Stairs for the finale.
Gently fluttering in the wind, the clothes had almost none of the ‘structure’ or stilted formality often associated with couture. That couture could be infused with so much ease is a necessary nod to the modern. Many of the outers were so light and not structured that they seemed like throws. Even a garment as casual as a singlet for men was given the couture treatment. Mr Piccioli dubbed the collection The Beginning, where, according to the Valentino show notes, “everything starts anew where everything invariably begins: in Rome, in the Atelier, the place where creations and inventions come to life through the hands and stories of those who actually make the clothes, of those who imprint their character on cloth through manual work. The manner hasn’t changed. Not even the address has changed. And yet everything has changed.” Regrettably, petty rivalry has not.
Update (12 July 2022, 11pm), according to a follow-up WWD editorial, Dior withdrew their ultimatum. “Dior is asking Valentino to disregard a previous letter demanding financial compensation of 100,000 euros, citing “cordial relations” between the two luxury houses and “mutual respect”, as reported.
Screen shots (top): Valentino/YouTube. Photos: Valentino