Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have developed into couture’s most unabashed romantics.
For the Valentino collection they showed on Wednesday evening, their starting point was opera. Intrigued by the work of set designer Maurizio Varamo of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, they enlisted him to design the floor coverings that snaked through the salons of the Hôtel de Salomon Rothschild. Rather than one continuous motif, Varamo delivered several, laid down continuously like oversize tiles — flowers, branches, butterflies flying into the clouds. The point was uniqueness as much as fantasy.
Chiuri and Piccioli opened with a literal nod to their musical muse — a wisp of a tulle gown, its skirt embroidered for graphic pop with a section of the “La Traviata” score. This had a surrealist vibe, at once enchanting and wacky. Yet that charmer proved one note, as the designers moved on to other flights of fancy.
In line with their platform of individuality, the duo showed variety of shapes — ethereal ballgowns, airy golden lace caftan, thicker blue-and-brown lace sheath. One gown featured a Lucas Cranach-inspired pictorial of Adam and Eve before the fall, reveling in the glories of nature.
Such distinctive pieces didn’t negate significant themes. Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” inspired the first of several ballerinas, this one pale and wrapped swanlike in feathers. Another theme — jungle! — was attributed variously to Henry Purcell, Giuseppe Verdi and Amilcare Ponchielli. Here, the designers proved their bravado with bold, verdant imagery starring giant cheetahs and lions.
While some, including a pair of cashmere coats, were amazing, a silk lion-face dress looked like a head shot of Disney’s Simba. And so as not to ignore women with simpler tastes, Chiuri and Piccioli included inviting, monastic simplicity for day and evening.
Though mostly lovely, this show worked an odd dichotomy. For all its gentle lyricism — the whisper-thin fabrics, the refined silhouettes, the angelic demeanor of the models — the amount of demonstrative decoration and all of those large-scale pictorials imparted an unsubtle quality as if shouting out, “Look, look! We’re couture!”
But that’s when taken in aggregate. One by one, the dresses were almost all beautiful. Off the runway, they would indeed stand out — in the best of ways. Come Oscar night, given a choice between a mermaid parade and Adam and Eve on a skirt, we’ll take the apple pickers. No contest.