Parks are officially the hottest things in high fashion. After Chanel’s forest set and Dior’s undulating boxwoods, Valentino creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli also took their couture collection down the garden path.
This is neither a judgment nor a slight. Gardens are glorious, and the Roman duo nourished their theme with a distinctive Italian touch, from the spaghetti-like embroideries coiled on coats and dresses — echoing the curlicues on fancy metal gates and grills — to the imposing line of coronation robes that they built into minimalist gowns, a nod to the royals depicted in paintings by Italian masters.
When a model stepped into the room sheltered by a black, birdcagelike cape made out of fabric tubes, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. The show was breathtaking. Chiuri and Piccioli are cultivating an intoxicating, covered-up approach to fashion that seduces with fragility and feminine grace, not skin.
Yet the spare precision cuts were resolutely modern. Sculpted, just slightly off-the-shoulder necklines gave a futuristic gloss to otherwise prim luncheon suits and coats, some bearing hawthorn embroideries. One long-sleeve gown in a glossy wool was blushed with a faint rose color and was void of detail but for a high, budlike neckline that cradled the head, the fabric peeling open ever so slightly at the back like petals.
The designers went well beyond flowers for their garden escapade, using hedge labyrinths as a template for arranging strips of lace on a flaring Fifties skirt, or imagining dresses that could convey a park at night. They captured this idea poetically with a frothy bustier, the skirt a fog of black tulle embroidered with an outline of silvery birds flitting against a night sky. According to the program notes, it took 600 hours in the atelier. Backstage, Piccioli said he and Chiuri wished to convey lightness and the beauty of a garden, forgetting the labor that goes into creating the pieces.
At the end of the show, house founder Valentino Garavani — whose castle in Wideville, France, is said to boast more than a million roses — stood to his feet and embraced his two successors with visible emotion. They are tending to his fashion legacy magnificently.