Valentino Makes A Statement

And it will drive the anti-vaxxer nuts

Fashion do want to be counted when it comes to making a social/political stand. Valentino, for one, not only knows their position on the divisive issue of COVID-19 vaccination, they are willing to express it, and, concurrently do good. Taking advantage of the cool-after-summer season, they’ve released a black, made-in-Italy, cotton hoodie with the word “Vaccinated” stretched across the chess, above which the unmistakable V-logo is centred. There is nothing to the hoodie really, other than what it might literally say about the wearer. With the vaccinated more appreciated in social circles and welcomed in dine-in-allowed eateries, knowing that they have received the two doses of either the mRNA or viral vector vaccines without turning on their Trace Together app might be a boon to those who’d benefit from the knowledge or be able to complete a professional duty.

Launched on the Valentino website today, the hoodie is shown on the label’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, who looks relaxed in a rattan chair, placed in a garden. According to Valentino’s corporate comms, the designer was “captivated” by an identical hoodie conceived by “the American pop culture sensation Cloney” (a multi-disciplinary collective based in LA, headed by one Duke Christian George III) that he ordered all that was available (five, it is said) and gave them to his friends, among them Lady Gaga, who dutifully wore the V-logoed version and posted a video on Instagram. Clearly Nicki Minaj of the “swollen balls anti-vaxx claim” wasn’t on the receiving end of this messaged top.

Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli proudly promoting his vaccination status

But, apparently, Valentino only told part of the story. According to media reports, Cloney “cloned” Valentino in their hoodies by replacing the V in ‘Vaccinated’ with Valentino’s V and the rest of the letters in the brand’s serif font. Mr Piccioli spotted the item on IG and magnanimously bought them to gift his friends, seeing the potential good that could come out of this hoodie. So rather than sue Cloney, as big brands such as Adidas are wont and eager to, he chose to work with them, pairing the couture brand in his charge with another closer to street that stars such as Justin Beiber and wife Hailey already love so that both can benefit from the resultant social-media exposure and old media support.

Lest you think this is just a commercial, opportunistic exercise, the sale of the hoodie, in fact, benefits places where COVID-19 vaccines have yet made significant impact. “All net profits,” Valentino reveals, “will be donated to UNICEF in favor of the COVAX facility, which ensures equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines by supplying doses to countries in need.” Doing so is also “to highlight the values the Maison stands for”, we are also told. We are not sure how many pieces are allotted to our island, but as of now, they are still available. Those who are keen on a charitable purchase and be in the company of others who share Valentino’s mission, best be quick. They are sold out in Europe.

The Valentino ‘Vaccinated’ hoodie is available on the brand’s website for SGD 1,1901. Photos: Valentino

Return Of The Rockstud

Valentino’s beloved sneaker is back. With the help of Craig Green, it is looking its handsome best

Looks like it is through collaborations that you can create winning products. Valentino’s once-popular Rockstud range of shoes, bags, and accessories has had its halcyon days. In recent years, with the popularity of monograms, old and new, on almost anything, details such as studs have less drawing power. Valentino, aware that their cash cow Rockstud needs a makeover or “re-signification”, as the brand calls it, approached the star British men’s wear designer Craig Green to reimagine the sneaker version as footwear that would appeal to guys who are no longer drawn to a surfeit of fancy hardware on their kicks, such as Christian Louboutin’s once all-the-rage Spikes. Valentino calls this collaboration an era-appropriate “cultural exchange”.

Rockstud is almost a sub-brand in itself, much like Nike’s Jordan. Last year, Valentino celebrated its 10th anniversary with an announcement that they would open the Rockstud to chosen creatives to re-imagine the use of the house detail. Mr Green is the first to come onboard, as the “Rockstud X becomes a white canvas for new imaginary landscapes”, according to a press release at that time. Characterised by mainly metal pyramidal studs, Rockstud was an instant hit for Valentino. It’s introduction in 2010 in the form of heeled footwear was received enthusiastically. The almost punk studs contrasted effectively with Valentino’s usually ultra-feminine styles. And then came the Rockrunner, the kicks that would augment the growing obsession with luxury sneakers throughout the 2010s.

Mr Green has made the limited-edition Rockstud less a stud of a shoe. The upper is in surprisingly humble knit that looks rather perforated. With widely placed lacing, it sits on a rubber base that is almost entirely Rockstudded, except that Mr Green has removed any extraneous hardware and worked the studs (now oversized, and in rows and separated by what could be parentheses) as part of the entire sole, making the silhouette sturdy-looking and well grounded. This must the least flashy iteration of the Rockstud so far, yet it’s easily the Batmobile of shoes!

Valentino X Craig Green Rockstud, USD1,295.00. is available in four colours on valentino.com. Product photo: Valentino

Casual Is The New Couture Black

At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli stepped away from red carpet, state dinner, or charity gala dressing. And it still dazzles

There are those who can accept the winds of change. They stand in the flutter—or blast—and enjoy the caresses of shifts and reversals (of time) around their bodies. Pierpaolo Piccioli is one of them. Not only does he embrace the currents flowing his way, he rides on them and soar. His latest couture for Valentino takes a break from the stupendous special occasion dressing that makes even grown men cry. They take into consideration, serenely, the unsettling time that is today. Called Code Temporal, the collection seems to address the question of what having the means to dress up really means at the present. And he does not need to suggest that it takes a village. Or a village wedding to give couture the reason to exist, to extol its time-honoured traditions. Just a stately home—the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, exemplar of the Roman Baroque, where an actual family, the Colonnas, still live (although part of the home is also a museum open to the public). It is in the ancient Great Hall of the Colonna Gallery, inaugurated in 1700, where Mr Piccioli sets the contrasting to his couture that, in comparison with his past output, is minimalist, the descriptor loathed by couture purists.

Haute couture has been in a state of protracted crossroads for as long as we can remember, and here we are again, considering not its survival or relevance, but how excessive or not it should be. There are couturiers who only want to whisk up volumes and those who can only design if they are in knee-deep vats of sequins and beads, even those based all the way in Beijing. The couture atelier was once known as a “laboratory” of ideas. Increasingly, they are more workshops of excess. With facilities that can output anything to indulge the couturier’s wildest fantasies, the clothes have been largely the basis for entertainment than the expression of a singular vision. Pierpaolo Piccioli shows that he is able to straddle both poles. And when the frippery of a former normal is shed, he shows himself to be a virtuoso of garments of technical finesse and beautiful proportions, of the tailleur and the flou, all the while not diminishing the specialness that is couture.

As if designed for (working from?) home that equals a chateau and the like, the clothes are pared down to respond to the needs of women in a domestic setting that might turn into a social gathering for a small intimate group, with not even a moment’s notice. Or for visiting the neighbour in the next palazzo down the road. Sure, the sensuous knit dresses can be worn to supervise the readying of the spring garden, but for most of the pieces, they require wanting to look this good when there is possibly no immediate audience. Dresses are sleek and not constricted; skirts—a couple with a train—swish or, with the slimmer pieces, lightly flap; cotton poplin shirts have the crispness of the ones you’re already used to, but look far dressier; supple coats, with their comfortable looseness, sheath like petals, while shorter, wrap-like tops swaddle like blankets. There is a noticeable lack of surface embellishment (save some embroideries and sequins), until the appearance of a pink open-work “bijoux” top (worn with bermuda shorts!), and you hope nightclubs will be back in business soon. Simplicity is no indication of lack of surprise: one sleeveless belted dress has a rear that looks like an unfastened gilet. Many outers are slipped off the shoulders at the end of the runway to reveal either simple separates inside or, in the case of one, a jaw-dropping top-and-pants-combination with ruffles and full sequins. Even a slip dress can have a double-boiler effect: the inner contained within an outer—one that threatens to slip completely off.

Valentino, to some, might not be Valentino if not for the ultra-feminine and, for a lack of a better word, the frothy. But there’s something to be said of designs so controlled in their execution, and colours and pairings so spirit-lifting: they convey real and rare artistry. Clothes of the highest calibre, conceived and made in rarified spaces that few find fathomable, can be this imaginable in a wardrobe, and can afford this palpability of elegance, deserve their place on actual bodies, not a collector’s store room or a museum’s archival facility. Valentino and Pierpaolo Piccioli should be accorded the honour.

Photos: Valentino

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

DSM Gives Back

A fashion retailer that cares is a fashion retailer that wins

 

DSM IG announcement Jul 2020

Dover Street Market has announced an initiative that applies to the country/city where it has a physical store. Buy a T-shirt from the “Fearless” collection, and “100% of its proceeds go to charities supporting healthcare workers in each of the six DSM regions”. Here, what you pay for will instead go to Beyond Social Services, described on their website as “a charity dedicated to helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds break away from the poverty cycle”. Enjoying fashion and serving a good cause feel right (and good?) now.

Fearless involves some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, as well as streetwear, twenty eight of them that DSM considers as “friends”. And the store is well-supported. To look out for are Raf Simons, Sacai, Undercover, and Valentino, and, for streetwear junkies, Awake NY, Bianca Chandon, Clot, just to name three. The objective is as simple as it is charitable: “…to create a simple collection of T-shirts that help to spread positive energy through the wider DSM global community and out into the world,” according to DSM.

DSM tees Jul 2020

Fearless comes hot on the heels of the Social Justice Charity Capsule, conceived by the sub-brand CDG to support the Black Lives Matter movement. What were first designed as uniforms for staff to wear to welcome shoppers back to the store after lockdown have become available for sale, presumably due to the intense interest from customers. The positive messages on the garments along the lines of “Believe in a better tomorrow” sync with the present global sentiment that calls for massive social change.

Prices of the T-shirts are not yet available as we hit the publish button. It is hard to make a guess as DSM does carry tees of a rather wide price range. We suspect they will retail for SGD100 upwards. This may not be considered outrageous since many are from trending brands. We are certain Doublet’s design of a heart shape, composed of Post-It notes with handwritten messages on them will be first to be snapped up. The Fearless Initiative launches tomorrow at DSMS, as well as online. Shop and do some good.

Photos: (main and products) DSM. Collage: Just So

Just Spellbinding

Valentino’s latest haute couture shows why Pierpaolo Piccioli is the undisputed master

 

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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.

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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.

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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

Redundant!

Ivanka Trump may be pretty in pink, but she’s not powerful in pink, nor percipient 

 

Front and centre: Ivanka Trump at the G20 Summit in Osaka. Photo: AP

By Mao Shan Wang

Oh, to be snubbed! Most of us would have buried our heads in shame. Not Ivanka Trump. She carried hers high, along with her hands, moving them for emphasis and attention. Also referred to, perhaps a little derisively, as the “First Daughter”, she is, I concede, not one of us. She’s made of sterner stuff—her father’s go-to whatever.

In a video posted by the French government and subsequently shared by many news agencies, Ms Trump was captured eager to participate in a conversation that she possibly did not initiate. The members of this group chat were head of states Theresa May, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, and the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Legarde, and it is the IMF chief’s reaction that is truly—allow me to use Mastercard’s marketing tagline—priceless!

The now-diplomat-wannabe appeared to want to engage powerful players of world politics (or, maybe, interrupt), but was unable to even catch their attention, not even with her hand gestures, made more emphatic by the equally gesticulating trumpet sleeves that framed her wrists; she was frowned at. To me (and most of those who live online), Ms Trump appeared out of place, visually incongruous, not in the same league. Sesame Street fans will recognise this episode in the song/game “one of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong” (don’t mean to call anyone in the video a ‘thing’, but you now what I mean). And Taylor Swift fans, too!

Let me rub it in: Professionally, she’s not up there; intellectually, she’s not of equal heft; and sartorially, she’s not cut from the same cloth; she who has no more of her own label to turn to. Talking about cloth, is dressing like you’re going to lunch with your BFFs in a newly starred Michelin-rated restaurant a good look at the G20 Summit?

Professionally, she’s not up there; intellectually, she’s not of equal heft; and sartorially, she’s not cut from the same cloth

 

Admittedly, she did stand out, although not in a way that might be appreciated at such a high-level international forum, since this wasn’t a meet-and-greet at a Marie Kondo convention. Neither did Ms Trump rock it (to borrow a term often associated with Rihanna) in the pink Valentino, with what the brand called a “snowdrop” print, however sweet it was. Perhaps, she merely wanted to show the world how she had contributed to the US retail performance of Q3. Frankly, looking at her, I don’t know who or what she was representing—the White House, the United States of America, or the Miss Universe Organisation (even if her father doesn’t own it anymore). The floaty dress looked lame on her, a femininity enhancer and little else, something Jamie Chua might wear to host a program for her sadly inane YouTube channel. And I have not even started on the insipid white belt.

The thing is, we may not be able to see through that dress, but underneath it is a person with skin that can only be described as thicker—a lot thicker—than the fabric that sheathed it. We know her father has never stopped their family outings, not even after taking up residency in the White House, but that does not mean she should avail herself to what has been largely foreign-affairs occasions, even if it is often said that her husband Jared Kushner runs a “shadow State Department” (settling the Israeli-Palestinian problem/conflict a pet project)! Even the G20 Summit wasn’t enough. After Osaka, she went along with her father to North Korea, and no one knows what the president’s daughter is doing at the DMZ. If the Trumps wanted to see how “surreal” the hermit kingdom is, they should have joined a tour.

Okay, I forget. She did have an agenda at the G20 Summit: to sing the same song of “women’s empowerment” as she did—if you don’t remember—at the last G20 in Hamburg where she marketed her also-in-pink self. The sad thing about Ivanka Trump is this: it’s not the pink (Angela Merkel wore pink too in Osaka). She not only often looks like she’s done for the day and is off to the spa to spend quality time with a therapist and scented candles, she sounds just as inconsequential—in fact, trite and unoriginal.

At the summit, she called women “one of the most undervalued resources in the world”, and felt they should not only be a social justice issue, but one of “economic and defence policy” too. Didn’t Theresa May, responding to Emmanuel Macron comment on social justice, earlier say something to that effect in that conversation Ivanka Trump was not welcomed?

A Lull There Was

Positively a lull. Has ready-to-wear taken the excitement and excess away from haute couture?

 

Chanel couture AW 2018 pic 1Screen grab of Chanel haute couture autumn/winter 2018

All the talk (bluster?) about streetwear pervading ready-to-wear and impinging on popular imagination seems to be taking its toll on high fashion. The recent couture season that ended a few days ago was perhaps one of the dullest in recent memory, as if designers were taking a defeatist stand against what are unavoidable aesthetical changes sweeping through luxury brands. The usually rousing presentations of Chanel, for example, gave way to an uninspiring, drab-as-pavement-stone show, set on a recreated promenade with the bustle of a cemetery.

For most part of fashion today, marketing and the resultant hype have taken over design. Haute couture, once distant from the brouhaha that characterises ready-to-wear, is now 4G, but on which frequency does it connect, it isn’t clear. Nor is it evident that it’s as connected as other product categories brands are now expected to percolate. It appears to be in re-evaluation mode, with designers going back to what their respective houses are known for, not trying to narrow down to what is modern. It is in the past, when it was an exquisite time for couture, that createurs of the present can find something glorious to bring back or to reminisce or to parody.

Despite Valentino Garavani’s tearful reaction to Pierpaolo Piccioli’s superb collection for the house that the former founded, this couture season had not been one that was particularly moving. Presentation-wise, pret-a-porter has already stolen the show for years; it has taken the leadership role (does haute couture still sell perfume?), with cruise as its commercial director. In terms of design, commercial consideration is a prime concern, so is millennial appeal. Even the young not financially endowed enough to buy need to be adequately thrilled so that their wealthy contemporaries would bite.

Yet, haute couture has lost its ability to stir us deeply, a kindling not palpable since the heydays of the art in the ’40s and ’50s, and, maybe, Yves Saint Laurent—a collection or two—in the ’70s or Christian Lacroix in the ’80s or John Galliano’s Dior in the ’90s. In fact, not until Raf Simons’s debut at Dior in the fall of 2012 did we hold our breath when the clothes came out, model by model, look by look, airy sumptuousness by airy sumptuousness. And we have not since. Gone are the times when “clothes were devastating. One fainted. One simply blew up and died,” as Diana Vreeland said of Balenciaga.

Don’t get us wrong. Haute couture isn’t down-graded in any way, craft-wise. The clothes are still the epitome of the best in handwork and hand-guided dressmaking. But is it in high fashion’s favour that only upon close examination do we get to see its magic? Has it become a mere crucible in which the metiers can be put on their mettle? Or has designers become tired (or old) battling the reality of casual dress everywhere in the world to want couture to be more about dreams? Unremarkable—no matter the fabric, the beading, the embroidery—will just be conspicuously ordinary.

Chanel

Chanel couture AW 2018Photos: Chanel

The house decided to set the show on one of the most recognisable boulevards in Paris, not as a nod to streetwear, but as proscenium to a collection that would otherwise lack both context and vitality. Karl Lagerfeld has so successfully lend commercial clout to Chanel couture that it is increasingly harder to tell it apart from the ready-to-wear or even the cruise if you don’t, for instance, unzip the slit on the sleeve—a recurrent idea this season—up to the elbow to see how exquisite the inside is.

While Mr Largerfeld is wont to repeat an idea that he likes, the zipped sleeves appeared so frequently that what was unexpected quickly became tedious. Perhaps such a detail is necessary for otherwise quite a few outfits would be rather standard Chanel skirt suits of characteristic tweed. And there were so many of them suits, in the not-so-arresting colour of concrete. When dresses did appear, they looked like they belonged to a doll’s wardrobe, until Ant Man came along with his blue Pym Discs.

Dior

Dior couture AW 2018Photos: Dior

Dior’s pale hues and kindred nudes have been said to give the collection a “sombre vibe”. It’s surprising no one said that the colours threaded on the edge of dull. Or, on the conventional silhouettes that Maria Grazia Chiuri had preferred, as cheerful as sampling room toile. These colours may have been alright if the designs on which they were tethered to weren’t so impassive, so unimaginative, so ordinary. The nearly one-silhouette collection is generous to the many customers for whom embroidered silk tulle nipped-in at the natural waist is the epitome of moneyed femininity.

As with Chanel, the visual divide between Dior couture and its pret-a-porter is seam-narrow. Ms Chiuri has steered Dior in the direction of consumption and political reality, and what she, as a woman, thinks the majority of womankind wants to wear. Hence, there won’t be the second coming of the New Look. The selling point would be its familiarity, not only of the Dior of yore, but also of the present. Vive le classique?

Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana alta moda AW 2018Photos: indigital.tv

Although not on the Paris calendar, Dolce & Gabbana’s flashy Lake Como presentation—part of the Italian couture offering, Alta Moda—was very much tribute to the haute of dressmaking. Or, was it to show that they could surpass Gucci? If not in goofiness, at least in over-the-top camp? In case we do not already know that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana could out-shine, out-bead, out-glitter, out-embroider, out-lace, out-appliqué everyone, the duo piled everything into their couture, minus the kitchen sink.

To some (or many, considering there are loads of their supporters), only such visually thrusting fashion is fashion. If fashion is of the moment, these clothes are the now that seizes you. Who needs mileage? Not today’s see-now-buy-now customers. Seeing now and buying now could also mean forgetting by tomorrow. Which, perhaps, explains why Dolce & Gabbana’s clothes don’t differ that much between collections, couture or not. More is more. No one needs to remember the seasons past when there will always be more more. Rather, it’s about the ostentation that can delight at that very moment. For that you don’t really need a description.

Givenchy

Givenchy couture AW 2018Photos: Givenchy

Claire Waight-Keller is on a high as people have not forgotten her design for the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding. She has not only done English monarchy proud, she has done all of England proud, and, in doing so, shone the light on the couture might of a house once associated with royalty, both of the ones based on thrones and those based in Hollywood.

These are clothes, one assumes, that duchesses and their ilk would wear. And between them some gowns actresses, inspired by duchesses, would pick for a red-carpet night. On that note, Ms Waight-Keller knows who she’s targeting. She has looked hard at the Givenchy archives, just as Maria Grazia Chiuri had at Dior, and hoped that among her audience and customers there may be an IG-gen Audrey Hepburn, never mind the latter’s kind of elegance on a inimitable gamine frame does not exist anymore. These were precisely-cut, moderate clothes for an imprecise and immoderate world.

Guo Pei

Guo Pei couture AW 2018Photos: indigital.tv

Even after setting up an atelier in Paris, Guo Pei has always seen fashion through her own Chinese, post-Mao, pre-market economy lens, offering couture that has, up till now, been a Beijing fantasist’s idea of what Western dress is about. Surprisingly, her latest collection was less fairy tale than usual, and, in fact, showed a maturity and—dare we say—sophistication that we never thought possible from her studio, named Rose.

This time, Ms Guo’s collection projected the “beauty of strength” of architecture by way of Gothic churches. It appeared, perhaps, a month and a half too late for the Med Gala. Still, the working of architectural forms and details into her designs was far more controlled than anything she had done before. If the reading was too literal—cupola equaled skirt, for example, this is because she has yet aligned herself with the difficult art of subtlety. The clothes, although still stiff and probably not too comfortable to wear, were at least not inverted hulls of ships.

Jean Paul Gaultier

JPG Couture AW 2018Photos: Jean Paul Gaultier

Freed from the need to do two pret-a-porter collections a year, Jean Paul Gaultier would, one might guess, have quite a lot of time in his hands to dream up a stupendous couture collection. He did not. Some said this was classic Gaultier: reworking traditional tallieur—this time, the le smoking—and not, as usual, discounting the camp. The thing is, 28 years after the advent of the conical bra that Madonna adopted faster than she did the children of Melawi, is Jean Paul Gaultier still the enfant terrible of French fashion?

To be sure, Mr Gaultier appeared to be still having fun. These clothes would probably appeal to those nostalgic for the days when he was not following the beat of other houses, when he wanted to “modernise” haute couture, when his clothes cheekily challenged gender conventions. However, are there still any rules in the book to break? Now, when nothing in fashion shocks anymore and there are those such as Nicki Minaj who dispenses with the brassiere altogether, Jean Paul Gaultier’s glammed-up camp looked somewhat unrelated to the present. In fact, Mr Gaultier no longer needs to show us his jabbing at conventional tack and taste, or How to do That, to steal the title of the dance single (“house couture”, featuring a young Naomi Campbell and a pair of pirouetting scissors!) that he released in 1988. We’re not suggesting he pares down, but he could do with some reining in. The time is right.

Maison Margiela

Maison Margiela Artisanal AW 2018Photos: Maison Margiela

John Galliano’s Artisanal collection for Maison Margiela forced the eyes to look—front and back, top and bottom. The eyes has to travel! From Martin Margiela to Mr Galliano now, Artisanal—launched in 2006 and blessed by the Chambre Syndicale de la haute Couture—has remained a challenge to the visual understanding of what is wearable on a body, or attachable (iPhones clamped to wrists and ankles?). And that makes it compelling. Mr Galliano’s vision this season perhaps owed more to Comme des Garçons—the bonding, the missing/hidden armholes, the body-misshaping wraps—than the maison’s predecessor/founder, but it continued to test perceptions in haute couture of what can be constructed, by hand no less.

“At least there was effort,” said a follower of SOTD in response to a “quiet” couture season. That is without doubt. Yet, sometimes one wonders if there was too much effort, to the point that this collection was almost a parody of Mr Galliano’s uncommon creativity, bordering on the absurd or the alien (Na’vi people, perhaps?). These were complex creations and there was much to unpack. No vanilla shifts for Mr Galliano, nothing so undeviating. While other designers sought to project outward from the body, he opted for ligature: he Christo-ed the body. The tulle binding was, in fact, previewed at Mr Galliano’s first men’s Artisanal collection a month earlier, but it was more constricted in the women’s version, as if restriction is a new covetable aesthetic, the way the wasp waist—shown in the men’s Artisanal—once was. Trust John Galliano.

Valentino

Valentino Couture AW 2018Photos: Valentino

Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino couture begged to be seen again. And you did because, frankly, it was too sumptuous to take it all in in one WiFi-dependent viewing. Mr Piccioli explored the myriad possibilities couture offers as if he had stumbled into an atelier for the first time. He is, of course, not new to the support of the skilled hands and he has charmed before, but the exuberance of the collection felt like this was a maiden effort, a prodigious showing, a tour de force. For a moment, you thought haute couture has always been this wonderful.

This was affirmation of the mysterious enchantment a designer is able to offer when he stokes his imagination with the skills available to him, and magnify the sum of the parts. And such high degree of pleasure: Those ruffles! Those flounces! Those bows! Those tiers! Those shapes! Those poufs! Those prints! Those patterns! Those colours! Those embroideries! Those feathers! How they held you spellbound! In a reality/data-driven world, it was nice to see dreams come vividly alive.

Viktor & Rolf

Viktor & Rolf Couture AW 2018Photos: Viktor & Rolf

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren celebrated their 25th year with a collection that revisited what they have done before—the complex, the astounding, and the beautiful. This time, they seemed to say that they can do them even more complex, more astounding, and more beautiful. White was the predominant colour, a clean palette with which to better imprint their boundless imagination and make a pitch for couture’s special place in the fashion universe. And Mr Horsting and Mr Snoeren did not hold back. By this, we do not mean an injudicious use of the crafting arsenal available to them. Rather, both brought to the fore a very persuasive, not manic, display of wearable art—a theme that they explored in the autumn/winter 2015 season, tempered by a unique, high-brow, alluring elegance.

In that year, Viktor and Rolf, like Jean Paul Gaultier ten months earlier, ceased the operation of their pret-a-porter. Their dedication to haute couture is clear to see in the collections they produce: always above the ordinary, with ornamentation that reflect deft hands and keen eyes. Both Mr Horsting and Snoeren are not shy, for example, of ruffles and bows: they applied them with a fervour not even Marie Antoinette’s dressmakers can match. Few designers of today handle these flourishes as nimbly and imaginatively as these two. With them, the craft of couture is celebrated. No applause would be too loud.

The Scallop Age

Valentino AW 2018 P1

Well, perhaps not an age of the scallop, but the scallop edge has a new edge, and this, we fear, will be the most copied fashion detail in the coming months, especially the scallop edge seen at Valentino. Make a date with Zara—you’ll soon see it there, if not among the dresses, definitely with the skirts, even in the company of T-shirts. This is not the scallop edge of your mother’s time, those hemlines of repeated less-than-half-of-circle or those along the opening of short jackets on which an oversized button is centred atop each scallop to better emphasise the convex curve of the latter.

Rather, designer Pierpaolo Piccioli employs them boldly— deep, half-a-circle scallop (any craft book will tell you that the shallower the scallop, the easier it is to sew)—as if they are Chinese cloud motifs, only a lot less ornate. And the placements are rather unusual: on one one-arm dress, black on more than half of the front side, the over-sized scallop edge is placed against a narrow strip of white to better accentuate its boldness and graphic appeal. Elsewhere, the scallop edge appears on a bib-front (that runs to the hem of the floor-length dress!), on the hems of a diagonally tiered dress, and as perimeter of a cape. And nowhere does it transmute the outfits into something dreadfully girlish, or garish.

Unencumbered by over-femininity, Mr Piccioli has consistently, since the departure of co-créateur Maria Grazia Chiuri in 2016, forged a rather dreamy vision of today’s woman of means and power. It’s quite a pull away from the Victorian primness that the duo was proposing towards the end of their partnership (“too much fabric, too covered up”, as one make-up artist once said to us), yet it does not shirk from the Valentino-esque vision of moneyed dress-up, or the perceived harmony and contentment alit within those who carry themselves in these clothes.

Valentino AW 2018 G1

Today, Mr Piccioli ascribes his aesthetic to “romanticism”. In its post-show communication material, Valentino touts that “romanticism is strength. It places sensibility before rationality, authenticity before stereotypes.” And suggests that “being romantic is a way of living life. Giving form to the freedom of being, subverting clichés.” Non-marketing types may consider all that verbiage, but even if the words don’t give form to the collection, something can be said of Mr Piccioli’s way with putting “authenticity before stereotypes” or “subverting clichés”. He has subscribed to a sense of beauty that harks to an era when magnificence mattered and also takes into consideration what that might mean when seen through a smartphone’s camera lens.

Now that many media outlets are charting “this month’s Instagram winners” to see which brand is getting the most influencer buzz, there is pressure among labels to produce clothes and to style them to generate the optics that today’s online rhapsody is about. Designers ‘project’ clothes so that they can be better seen the way actors project their voices so that they can be better heard. What, to us, is rather amazing is that Mr Piccioli is able to say so much without shouting, without desperately rising above the din that is, quite sadly, current, Instagram-worthy fashion.

That he is able to straddle the online/offline divide (even if that is increasingly narrowing) reflects Mr Piccioli’s natural affinity with the balanced, the proportioned, and the nuanced—a poise of perfection that transcends age. His are clothes that do not veer towards the too-young or the past-their-prime. His is not an overly conscious, try-too-hard attempt at staying on the right side of uncompromisingly now, unlike, say, Karl Lagerfeld, who, for Chanel, must align himself with youth-oriented consumerism or place his finger firmly on the zeitgeist, with the result that’s neither here nor there.

Valentino AW 2018 G2

Valentino AW 2018 G3

Some people have a very performance-linked relationship with clothes—every drop of the sleeve a gesture, every swish of the skirt a dance, which seems to us rather old Hollywood, during a time when stars not filming in a studio had to look immaculate and ready for the paparazzi. Fashion, in its need to be attention-grabbing, seems to have gone that way since many women no longer dress for fun, for friends, but for the opportunityself-offered mostlyto cavort before a camera lens.

Valentino does not negate the likelihood that their clothes will support the popularity of the hashtag OOTD, but they are not, as far as we can discern, conceived for the sake of social-media bang. Sure, this season’s oversized, embroidered and appliquéd flowers and Little Red Riding Hood-worthy hoods are the stuff fashion-hungry IG-ers look out for and will cop, but beyond that, there is salute to the dressmaker’s craft and the blessing of the couturier’s eye. Pierpaolo Piccioli, we are quite convinced, is going to steer Valentino to higher ground.

Photos: indigital.tv

The Virtuoso At Valentino

Valentino SS 2018 P1

After seeing Pierpaolo Piccioli’s collection for Valentino, it is clear to us who among the two (once co-creators at the house) was the weaker that Christian Dior enticed. As a solo act, Mr Piccioli has quickly found his footing although some of us have seen it there all along, as we noted at his first one-man couture show for the house early this year. Or, perhaps, finally unhindered, he is able to conceive for a Valentino that strikes the delicate balance between the house’s unmistakable femininity and the present-day call for a sense of the street. It is a sweet spot.

According to those who quoted from his show notes, Mr Piccioli wanted to “make the ordinary extraordinary” with his spring/summer 2018 collection. His ordinary is, however, not the commonplace that has kept lesser brands afloat. Valentino Garavani’s own extraordinary, while not ground-shaking even at its height in the ’60s, is unapologetic femininity that ensured the head-to-toe good taste few women can resist. Under Mr Piccioli’s stewardship, the aesthetic has an even more alluring magic. Evocative of the blitheness of literary heroines of the past, the sometimes near-pious appearance and, at the same time, sweet girlishness have almost obliterated the memory of the uninspired collections of Mr Garavani’s successor, the by-now forgotten Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly from Gucci.

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Mr Piccioli’s predilection for high necks and long sleeves has prompted some women to think he uses too much cloth.  It is actually refreshing that he has given us reason to believe that fashion, in the end, is about fabrics, not the lack of it, and how they flow on the body, not how they expose it. By that, we don’t mean that Mr Piccioli’s designs are excessively proper and devoid of sex appeal. His short dresses have a youthfulness that is akin to anything worn at Coachella. Yet, he did not have to resort to tired tricks such as blatant transparency and all-over logos to set his message in the clear present.

The first set of the latest collection, in fact, took us quite by surprise. Who’d thought of outdoor wear at Valentino? But there they are: The North Face refaced, and the result sumptuous. These are parkas and kin that are not designed for the rough and tumble of challenging mountains; these are for the joy of get-togethers in an alpine lodge, more so when the outers come with sleeves aglitter with paillettes. Equally beguiling are the fabrics: gossamer veils more in line with couture than clothing that benefits from the use of Gore-Tex. And the layers in pale colours have the sublime lightness of feuillete.

Valentino SS 2018 G3

Valentino SS 2018 G4

To be sure, glammed-up outdoor wear has been explored at Sacai, where Chitose Abe has re-imagined them in unlikely tweed. Ms Abe has a flair for feminising sports and outdoor fashion without feminine overkill, first seen in her collaboration with Nike in spring 2015. Mr Piccioli’s versions are less avant garde, perhaps, and less of hybrids, but they are no less innovative. The pocket placements, the tops stitches, and the mix of fabrics in just a pair for a piece of garment suggest a penchant for the “extraordinary” indeed.

The youthful factor is enticingly augmented by rather un-Valentino details: exposed pocket bags on pants, allowed to hang out like Miley Cirus’s one-time over-exposed tongue. Whether this is a nod to how women—young and not so young—enjoy wearing short shorts with shredded or ripped crotch that exposes unusually long pocket bags, it is not quite clear. But Mr Piccioli’s version is nothing like the sad sacks described. In fact, the pockets are so exquisitely designed, proportioned, and embellished, they’re not the least extraneous, adding to the overall glamourous utility, like a handbag augmenting the stylishness of an outfit.

Valentino SS 2018 G5Valentino SS 2018 G6

There’s also something beguiling about the way Mr Piccioli works with rather conventional forms, but offers compositional daring within. The juxtaposition of prints and textures, the gathers and flounces asymmetrically fashioned, the multiple necklines and singular softness of the shoulders—they validate the notion that women do not need the aggression of extreme shapes to make a statement. His silhouettes do not challenge less outré tastes, yet they are seductive for women who are averse to the unsurprising. His dresses—from red-carpet-worthy gowns to those that would not be out of place on a prairie bathed in sunshine—have a sense of ease about them that does not suggest too effortless.

Despite all the highfalutin discourse about the moon that Mr Piccioli had supposedly shared with the media prior to the show, the clothes offer no perceptible hint of anything lunar. We like that so much of what he has showed is uplifting, just as the swishing of dresses, we imagine, could be euphonic. If fashion should not be minimal, as the prevailing winds suggest, it sure could be as astutely elaborate as Valentino.

Photos: (top) Valentino and (catwalk) indigital.tv

He Did It. Alone.

Now a solo act, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino SS 2017 couture proves that sometimes fashion is really better as an OMS

 

pierpaolo-piccioli

The couture season is well over. We’re now looking at the collections again. Like good books, some fashion collections deserve a revisit. And one that really brought pleasure to us again is Valentino. These are, simply put, sensational clothes. They are fine-looking, closer to Valentino in spirit, and clearly directional.

Pierpaolo Piccioli has shown that he can steer the storied house alone, sans a partner that has proved to be quite unspectacular—dull, even—at Dior, reaffirming, once again, that couture is, perhaps, better in the hands of a man.

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Yes, we risk being chastised for posting a sexist statement (we’re not, rest assured, keeping apace in the era of Trump!). To be sure, we’re not saying women can’t do couture. No one will dispute the talent of Coco Chanel. Or Madame Gres. Or Madeline Vionnet. Or, for those who insist on contemporary references, Iris Van Herpen. But not that many women can weave magic in the couture.

And it would be narrow not to accept that the sexes do design differently. We are not sure how the balance of creative power played out before, but with a female in the equation, Valentino did look a tad fussily femme. At times, it was even theatrical, as if homage to literary damsels of the past. That’s not, of course, necessarily a bad thing (we’re still enamoured with those painterly embroidery). It’s just that too much of the frills and flowers just got a little tired and predictable.

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Mr Piccioli’s couture collection is so spare, yet stunning, so desirous of caress. You just want to jump into one of those column dresses. With clothes this eye-catchingly simple, why, one wonders, would there be the upsurge in the overwrought, over-embroidered, over-designed. Mr Piccioli showed that ruffles need not mean flamenco and that gossamer need not be vulgar. Even when there were embellishments, there were, to us, judicious use and application, which recall the gowns Audrey Hepburn had worn (she was not strictly Givenchy), such as the beaded dress that she presented herself in at The Proust Ball at the Château de Ferrières in 1971. A light touch.

To us, there is in the collection a nod to Valentino of the Firenze years, when Jackie Kennedy first came to be acquainted with the designer’s clothes in 1964, and soon became a long-time client. When Diana Vreeland first met Valentino, also in that year, she was reported to have said to him, “Even at birth, genius always stands out. I see genius in you. Good luck.” It’s too early to discern genius in Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino, but we sure like to say good luck too.

Photos: Imaxtree

Not Low On Camo Mojo

Valentino Uomo front

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.

Valentino Uomo interior

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.

Valentino Uomo interior fixtures

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 Homme SS 2016Valentino 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