Tears and cheers greeted the unforgettable Valentino show a year ago, when designer Pierpaolo Piccioli produced a couture collection of intense beauty, celebrating dark skins.
The poetic result overwhelmed an audience, headed by founder Valentino Garavani himself, and left an emotional Celine Dion in tears.
Fashion is about change and no-one expected the designer to replicate previous events. But there was a major difference for summer 2020, as the models walked out in dresses that firmly traced – even constrained – the body line, in contrast to the fluidity of previous seasons. The cut was linear, wiping out all the vast and voluminous shapes.]
And the collection was far from casual; the look of the women was structured, hair ‘done’ in the traditional way, with the designer naming his inspiration as the mid-century modernist art movement. That was interpreted in the clothes as something not exactly cold, but quite different from the voluptuous tenderness of recent shows.
The colours remained mostly vivid, but the spirit was different, as seen in the series of mood boards that are part of Pierpaolo’s DNA.
“I started the collection with a reflection about how couture is close to the idea of dreams, which are an expression of the subconscious, something usually hidden, mysterious, not shown,” said the designer.
“You see the magic, but you miss all the human process – all the hours of sleepless nights, experiments, whatever.”
The general sense of change was that the outfits seemed far less fluid, rather sharper with some bold patterns. The message came over right from the start as scarlet gloves rose from finger tips to above the elbows under a voluminous blush pink top.
A few steps later, the red effect was bolder still: bells of red on a cape top worn with a black and white patterned skirt. That was followed on the runway with a scarlet bow at the waist and narrow mauve trousers. The colours throughout seem ecclesiastical.
As ever, the Italian designer had looked to the artists of his country, studying, among others, mid-century Fausto Melotti’s playful sculpture. He was also thinking about that period in art and culture – what he called “a dream bridge” between conscious and unconscious minds, “developed as a celebration of self-expression”.
“It is deeper, darker, palpably sensual and erotic – a closer dialogue with the body,” concluded the designer of his collection that had some graceful effects such as big, fat bows to soften the sharp patterns. Fabric scooped gently out at the back showed flesh in a sweet way.
But it is one thing to trace the form and quite another to create a series of garments that seem credible for a modern woman. Pierpaolo produced some bold pieces in those vibrant colours or just crisp black and white. The shapes were definite, yet the whole effect was of a collection that seemed strong but drew on modernism from the past – without quite edging it towards the future.
I did not have the opportunity or the privilege this season to see the garments and the decoration up close, but there were many pieces that spoke out confidently for themselves – such as abstract blobs of scarlet on a white coat and matching top.
Coral (fake, of course) head pieces, sitting like crowns, were a fine example of the designer’s idea of bold beauty. While ultra-long earrings completed the strong, linear look.
The supreme skills of the Italian ateliers is at the heart of everything Pierpaolo designs. But this show was a clear attempt to create a style of his own within the Valentino world.
“I think that the past is part of the present,” Pierpaolo said. “I am the director of Valentino so that although I am not the founder of the house, I pay homage to him.
“But I am not saying that I decided to do the leaves on the prints because the mother of Mr Valentino used to love these kind of leaves. This is not paying homage. He was the founder of the house, I love his clothes and I’m here, so I interpreted that with my own sensibilities.”