By  on October 5, 2008

MILAN — Evolution over revolution — that’s what accessories designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli plan for Valentino’s ready-to-wear now that they’ve been given sole creative control of the iconic Italian fashion brand.

Chiuri and Piccioli were tapped Friday to replace Alessandra Facchinetti, who was abruptly dismissed as creative director after a week of feverish speculation surrounding the company during the Paris shows. Facchinetti lasted only two rtw collections and one couture season. Her firing ironically came after a well-received second effort for the house last week.

News of her departure and the appointment of Chiuri, 44, and Piccioli, 41, was first reported Friday on WWD.com.

Facchinetti clearly was caught off guard by her dismissal, despite the rumors. She said she learned with “deep regret from the press” that she would no longer be working for Valentino.

“This news came as a great surprise since the company’s top management has not yet seen fit to inform me of the above,” she said in a statement dripping with sarcasm. “ I would like to thank Valentino SpA for showing their appreciation of my ‘creative contribution and my sophisticated talent,’ although I deeply regret the fact that this talent and contribution do not seem to have been adequately acknowledged.”

She also criticized the fact that a brand “the calibre of Valentino, which has made history in the world of fashion, has been the subject of rumors for the past two weeks.”

Despite all this, Facchinetti feels the experience “has empowered me because I know that my work has been deeply appreciated throughout the world.”

According to sources familiar with the situation, it wasn’t Facchinetti’s clothes that lead to the rupture, but her inability to build a strong, cohesive team. In addition, her hesitancy and inability to make decisions ultimately crippled the production process. One source close to the company said the firm felt it did as much as it could to support what ultimately was too difficult and drawn-out a creative process.

Now it’s the turn of Chiuri and Piccioli, who told WWD in an exclusive interview that they plan to capitalize on the decade spent working elbow-to-elbow with Valentino himself to ferry the house into the future while remaining anchored to its history and DNA.

“We were hoping for it and I think it was a way for Stefano Sassi [Valentino’s chairman and chief executive] to express his appreciation of our work and his faith,” said Piccioli, echoing Chiuri’s sentiments.

And their appointment received a thumbs-up from two longtime supporters: Valentino and longtime partner Giancarlo Giammetti. While both had been noticeably silent about Facchinetti’s tenure at the brand, they immediately praised the appointment of Chiuri and Piccioli. “They are two serious capable professionals that I had alongside me for many years. They always demonstrated an enormous respect and love for my work,” said Valentino.

“There is an existing archive with thousands of dresses where they can draw and take inspiration from to create a Valentino product that is relevant today,” said the house’s founder, who then took a shot at Facchinetti by adding, “It is a shame their predecessor didn’t feel the need.”

Giammetti called their appointment a “wise decision. To pretend to transform and revolutionize the Valentino style is a utopia which is a loss from the start.”

He noted Valentino’s style should be taken forward, with necessary updating, by those who love it, respect it and above all know it perfectly. “Pier Paolo and Maria Grazia are company-oriented people and it is right to give them a chance to bring forward a style, which alongside Valentino, they have developed,” he said.

Seemingly undaunted by the fact they’re not clothing designers, Piccioli and Chiuri said they believe in establishing a strong company vision and utilizing the existing talent at the house.

“We believe in teamwork and we think there’s a great and efficient company supporting us that needs leadership,” said Piccioli.

“We want everyone to work well and happily because ultimately this reflects on the product,” added Chiuri.

Chiuri and Piccioli are the second accessories designers in recent years to assume total responsibility for a major Italian brand. Their course mirrors that of Frida Giannini, who went from accessories director to creative director for all Gucci categories in March 2005, following Facchinetti’s resignation as that brand’s women’s wear designer.

Chiuri and Piccioli cited Valentino’s solid structure and skilled workers, including the “premieres” in the atelier, as vitally important in their new roles. “Everyone was always so surprised by the fact that we know the archives even better than Valentino himself,” Chiuri said. “We are extremely familiar with this house and very close to it.”

Their first official outing will be in January with the couture collection, but retailers will get a preview in November when pre-collections season kicks off.

Chiuri and Piccioli, who feel they’ve succeeded in transposing iconic Valentino elements into the brand’s shoes and bags, are much liked within the company. In the years forging the template for Valentino’s accessories, Chiuri and Piccioli infused iconic couture elements such as ribbons, flowers, lace, tulle and embroideries into their bags and shoes.

It is known Valentino personally wooed them from Fendi and gave them carte blanche to develop their collection based on his briefings for each season.

Their modern and stark white studio in Valentino’s Rome headquarters is markedly different from the antique-filled office that belonged first to Valentino and then Facchinetti.

But while they kept a relatively low profile during Valentino’s tenure, things changed following the designer’s exit last September — again, only after months of speculation as to whether he was going to retire. When Facchinetti was at last named creative director of rtw, Chiuri and Piccioli were assigned the same title for accessories, a move aimed at raising their profiles and creative roles.

Possessing easy, down-to-earth personalities, they both juggle jam-packed work schedules and tend to the needs of their respective families and young children. Chiuri and Piccioli met at Fendi, where they worked for 10 years and are credited with having invented the Baguette bag.

Their designs can be highly experimental, and they have gone to great lengths to transpose intricate concepts such as weaving silk georgette into a bag similarly to how it’s treated in the couture atelier. They are also firm believers in Italian craftsmanship, scouring Italy for luxe materials and hardware.

Their vision of slow-but-steady growth for the brand in accessories has led to revenues of 50 million euros, or $69.1 million at current exchange, which accounts for 30 percent of Valentino’s revenues. Sassi said in May that his aim is to triple accessories sales over the next five years. Leather accessories advanced 50 percent in wholesale this year and in September the house launched Valentino Timeless luxury watches with Timex.

The duo’s latest undertaking is called Shopping Couture and revolves around one model — a tote served up in 10 variations that will hit stores next month.

Facchinetti, the daughter of Pooh band member Roberto Facchinetti, graduated from Milan’s Istituto Marangoni fashion school and joined Prada as an assistant in 1995. She quickly climbed the ladder to become coordinator for women’s and men’s at Miu Miu.

She then moved to Gucci, where she worked under Tom Ford and, in March 2004, PPR tapped her to succeed Ford for Gucci’s rtw where she showed her first collection in the fall of that year.

Facchinetti resigned in March 2005, two weeks after her second show, and was replaced by Giannini.

In 2006, she took on her first project since Gucci as a consultant for Moncler’s high-end Gamme Rouge line and in September 2007 was appointed creative director for Valentino’s women’s collections, including couture, rtw and the Red and Roma secondary lines.

She showed her first rtw collection in February that was younger, fresher and better edited but lacked a cohesive and long-term vision for the house. Her initial foray into couture in July garnered positive reviews as the designer relied heavily on the skilled and experienced seamstresses in the atelier to create her 38 looks.

At the time, Facchinetti said her goal was to attract younger customers and return to the roots and heart of couture by focusing on shape and workmanship.

On the runway that meant many suits and dresses touched up with gentle ruffles, tiers, embroideries and lots of back action.

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