MILAN — “Individuality, freedom and diversity are not just keywords for fashion, they are crucial for life itself,” believes Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli. “True fashion has to touch on these values that I believe in.”
To reflect this stance, for Valentino’s communication, Piccioli is developing a series of ideas channeled into different photographic projects linked to the authenticity of each media outlet he chooses. This translates into seasonal campaigns that will not rely on one single image or concept but rather a series of activities hinged on photography, music or videos with a different language depending on the media.
“I love this idea of all people: a combination of identities. It’s not place-specific. It’s about roots and identities, but I love the embrace of different cultures together,” Piccioli mused. “It’s about humans. It’s not about where you come from. It’s about you and your diversity: your expression.”
Exemplifying these concepts, Piccioli asked Liz Johnson Artur, winner of the Turner Prize, to photograph the Valentino spring 2021 collection in Milan, during the fashion show staged in September, reflecting on social distancing and the reality of the pandemic — surgical masks included — with a dedicated quote from Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo.
The images were published in art magazines, such as Flash Art, for example, targeting art connoisseurs, photography fans and the art world.
Then there is Zendaya. Targeting Gen Z and mirroring Piccioli’s values of inclusivity and his work to resignify the codes of the brand to make them more in sync with the times, the actress, singer and social activist embodies the designer’s concept of “contemporary romanticism.” Michael Bailey-Gates photographed Zendaya, whose new images debut on Wednesday.
The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing prompted Piccioli to conceive the Empathy campaign for fall 2020, asking a group of artists and friends of the house to participate, from Adut Akech, Christy Turlington and Gwyneth Paltrow, to Laura Dern, Mustafa the Poet, Rossy de Palma and Rula Jebreal, to name a few, photographed by those living with them during their lockdowns.
Piccioli also collaborated with Koreen, the founder of We’re Not Really Strangers, for the creation of a new game of 25 cards that reflect the shared values of both brands — empathy, individuality and positivity and launched last month. The reel of the project posted on Valentino’s Instagram accounted generated 5 million views.
Piccioli believes in choosing talents who represent a specific community and media, offering authenticity and a multifaceted message, and that this will amplify the brand’s voice.
One industry observer who requested anonymity contended that Piccioli “is not working with the goal to impose Valentino’s language to the media but to use the media and their own language as a means to narrate and to engage their audience. The campaign is made of different elements that coexist in a choral manner.”
His strategy seems to be working, as Valentino ranked 13th in the Gartner 2020 Digital Luxury Index, gaining 11 spots year-on-year and surpassing Dior and Saint Laurent. Providing some context, Gucci ranked first followed by Louis Vuitton. Fendi and Chanel ranked ninth.
According to a Tribe Dynamics study in December, Valentino’s Earned Media Value climbed 43 percent to almost $22 million.
Marketing and communication adviser Paolo Landi gave Piccioli’s approach a thumbs up. “We are now used through social media to one-to-one marketing. Through the internet, consumers have become ‘people.’ The old classification that divided us in segments by age, sex, profession, geographic provenance, spending power are outdated.”
The internet has facilitated conversations and learning people’s preferences through in-depth analysis. “Transversality wins. I think Piccioli aspires to start a dialogue with people that he feels closer to him and I believe this is a contemporary approach to marketing. Rather than trying to hit a generic target communicating everywhere, he narrows down the communication in a more precise way. This is possible today,” Landi said.
He underscored that what also matters is the level of novelty delivered. “Surprise in communication always wins over mainstream because we know déjà vu kills fashion.”
Rapid changes come from the use of technology so “we must be more educated and more informed, and especially never rely on business as usual,” continued Landi. “We must be flexible and quick in trying to understand where human beings are going, how their tastes change and, as a consequence, the direction to take to be increasingly closer to them. Brands should no longer try and reach everyone hoping to be seen. What works today is people communicating with one another and I think Piccioli has realized this. Communication can be more circumscribed and more precise, and social media can allow this.”
Shiva Mohammadian, associate director brand strategy and guidance, Insights Division at Kantar, underscored that Piccioli’s “approach makes sense if he remains faithful to his larger purpose and that of the brand.” She cautioned against communicating one message to the younger generations and something entirely different to the older ones, with the risk of having a “dystonic” effect.
Inclusivity is clearly a positive message, she said, “but it must share common ground” to avoid diluting the strength of the brand’s positioning or “distancing yourself too much” from the message.
“Targeted communication does not mean that one message is seen only by that specific target,” Mohammadian observed.
Asked if this kind of message is fitting for the times, she said it “makes sense because COVID-19 did not change people’s desire for customization.”
Alessandro Maria Ferreri, chief executive officer and owner of The Style Gate consulting firm, concurred, saying that, while it is important to protect the integrity of a brand, “it is very difficult today to have a single message that is the same for a consumer target that is very large, in terms of age, geography and spending power. You can’t put them all together under a same communication umbrella. Each needs a different tone of voice, with different content and fronted by different talents or celebrities, as their reaction varies depending on the stimulus.”
He drew a parallel with Dolce & Gabbana, whose different products are photographed in different ways with different models. “The brands that aspire to become global and that have passed the 1 billion euro sales benchmark feel the need to maintain a wide product offer, from a sneaker to an evening gown and they necessarily need to have a different approach for each consumer range.”
On top of this, those brands that have a strong beauty business, such as Saint Laurent or Dior, put in place yet another kind of communication strategy. For this reason, Ferreri does not believe Valentino is alone in its approach. “Is this positive in the long term and for the growth of the brand? Well, the Armani Group has followed this strategy since its inception and it appears its awareness is very solid.”