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.
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.
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.
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