PARIS — Giambattista Valli has been moving at a breakneck pace since Artémis, the private investment arm of the billionaire Pinault family, took a stake in his brand in 2017.
Maison Valli, which was founded in 2004 and produces haute couture, the Giambattista Valli and Giamba ready-to-wear lines, has since launched an activewear capsule collection, opened stores worldwide and last year unveiled a successful collaboration with high street retailer H&M.
Now confined to his Paris home due to the coronavirus crisis, Valli had time to take stock for the first time in years. He’s focusing on family life, catching up with his favorite TV shows like “Euphoria,” and trying to prepare his business for a historically challenging year.
“I’m always trying to see the positive side of things, not just the disaster part,” said the designer, famed for dressing A-listers like Jennifer Lopez and Ariana Grande in tulle gowns with gigantic trains.
WWD: How are you coping with confinement?
Giambattista Valli: Beyond the negative and profoundly tragic aspect of events, I’m finding personal pleasure in this isolation. This break, which gives you no alternative except to think about yourself, this moment of deep introspection, is deeply nourishing, especially since I’ve been submerged in a nonstop cycle of thought-action for the last few years.
WWD: This brings us to the fact that designers have been subjected to an infernal pace. Does it make sense to produce all these collections, drops and products?
G.V.: Right now, I can’t project myself further ahead than 24 or 48 hours, maximum. I think it’s changing by the second. It all depends how quickly they can come up with a vaccine.
But fundamentally, I think we need to think about who our final customer will be. Their priorities will be different after the confinement, which has totally upended everything. Everyone has been taken completely by surprise.
We’ve seen nothing like this in our century. Before, there was plague, cholera, the flu. But with this, we’re totally lost. So what can we say about it? For a start, it’s about understanding how this affects what we want and prioritize. Because we’re locked up at home, we’ll be yearning for comfort and will want to take care of our personal lives.
It’s a bit like with AIDS in the Eighties. People were scared of getting close, of having sex. You only had sex with protection, and it’s still that way today. I don’t know how long this confinement will last, but I don’t know who will want to stop wearing a mask after this. There are a lot of things we have to take into account. Looking ahead, we have to stay positive and hope they find a cure as quickly as possible.
Gradually, things will pick up, but they will pick up in a circular way: China first, then Europe and after that, the U.S. The timing of markets is going to shift.
WWD: You had already opted for a different format for haute couture, with exhibitions instead of runway shows.
G.V.: I’ve been doing exhibitions for two seasons. It’s something different and it’s been extremely successful. It means people are ready for something different. Why? Because for a start, nobody is going to feel like sitting with 600 to 1,500 other people at a runway show.
We’re going to have to come up with different formats. I think collections won’t be huge — rather, there will be capsules, drops like packages, which move the story forward.
That’s how I feel right now, but I might say the opposite tomorrow. It’s hard to be married to any concept right now. Other things will also evolve. In the same way that the customer today buys online, buyers will be able to buy online as well. We can develop visual tools that really convey the spirit of a collection, the clothes, the volumes and so forth. This will definitely be easier for houses that have a clear DNA. It makes it easy to understand for the end customer.
WWD: Have you already experimented with a digital showroom?
G.V.: We sold a big portion of our fall 2020 collection online. We can also do small traveling showrooms. These are things we can plan as we go. What is certain is that we’re going to go back to a more intimate way of doing things. The focus will be on the end product.
WWD: Do you think runway shows are on their way out?
G.V.: I think they will come back. Some things will come back, but perhaps in a different form. Things are always ebbing and flowing, like waves. When they come back, they’re slightly different.
Once the confinement is over and we have regained our freedom, there’s bound to be a wave of enthusiasm. It’s like after the war: people will want to go out and have fun, once they are confident about health again.
WWD: In the meantime, are you planning to keep your spring collection in stores for longer?
G.V.: I don’t know what to tell you, because we don’t even know when the stores will reopen. It’s still too unpredictable.
On top of this, online sales are blocked. There is no delivery. Net-a-porter is more or less on hold for the time being.
So that’s something we will have to manage. On top of that, if this confinement continues much longer, all the textile mills and factories that were supposed to produce the pre-fall collections won’t be able to deliver. It’s looking very tight at the moment.
WWD: Globally, do you feel that your brand is solid enough to withstand this crisis?
G.V.: Everyone is revising their projections and investments. We’re all trying to prepare for our future, which way it will go.
WWD: How many people work for you?
G.V.: It’s hard to say. In addition to the parent company in France, we have subsidiaries in Italy and the U.S., and then there is the retail.
WWD: Is everyone on technical unemployment or have you had to let anyone go?
G.V.: No, we haven’t let anyone go because the priority, both for me and my partner Artémis, is first and foremost the well-being of our employees.
The priority is the health of the employees, and also the economic health of our employees.
WWD: How are you keeping busy?
G.V.: Mainly, I am focusing on a meditative, introspective vision of the future. I’m also catching up with everything I didn’t have the time to do — both in terms of hobbies, but also work.
Unfortunately, I don’t look after just the creative side of the brand, but also the whole business side, together with my management team. But I’m fully enjoying this time I am able to spend on myself for the first time in years. Taking the time to watch loads of movies or series that I didn’t have the time or patience to watch, taking a breath — lots of things.
WWD: What are your favorite shows?
G.V.: Right now it’s “Pose,” but my favorite show is “Euphoria.”
WWD: How do you see the future of the fashion industry post COVID-19?
G.V.: I think we can get through this if we all stick together. We designers and houses have to support each other, but you, the media, also have to support us.
The media can generate hope and psychosis in equal measure, and right now, it’s important for the media to foster a positive vision of the future, and not just focus on the tragic aspects. The tragic aspect generates traffic and pulls in audiences, but that’s not the only thing there is to sell. There is also hope, and what comes next. I’m very sunny, and I’m always excited about what comes next. It’s always a surprise and most of the time, it’s even better than the past. So you really have to view this period like a page that’s being turned. In every century, there’s been a great war. This is not the kind of war where we’re fighting on the frontlines and dodging bombs. In this case, it’s a virus that is terrorizing us, but you have to look at the whole picture in a positive light and support each other.
That’s the positive message that I would like for people to start spreading, because that’s the next step. We are all going to have to deal with totally unexpected problems, but on the other hand, after a hurricane, the sun comes out again.
Our revenues will be very different from what we were hoping for, there will have to be drastic cost cutting, and we’ll have to reinvent the future in a different way.
But eventually, people will start getting married again, going out and enjoying life — enjoying it differently, perhaps, but I think there will always be a yearning for beauty.
Right now, it’s like the world is under anesthetic. It’s going to wake up, there’s no doubt about it. The question is how long it will take and that is the most disconcerting thing, because we don’t know. It’s impossible to plan anything right now. You can plan now for tomorrow morning, but tomorrow morning, the situation might be completely different again. It’s surreal in a way. It’s going to make people become much more creative in general. Why? Because you have to think outside the box to come up with solutions.