ROME — “On the move. Always,” said a smiling Giambattista Valli ahead of the big fashion show event the designer will stage here on Thursday evening to launch the full collection he developed with H&M.
Sporting a comfy black look with white sneakers and his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, Valli juggled between different locations to make sure everything was perfect for the second phase of “Project Love,” as the collaboration with the fast-fashion retailer is called.
As reported, the collaboration was revealed in May on the red carpet of the Cinema Against AIDS amfAR gala during the Cannes Film Festival, when the first looks from the line were sported by the likes of Kendall Jenner, Chiara Ferragni and H.E.R. The first drop — mainly including ballgowns — hit select H&M stores with a limited assortment on May 25, while the full collection will be available Nov. 7.
To celebrate the occasion, the designer welcomed guests, buyers and media to his hometown, hosting a packed schedule of events set to culminate with a fashion show in the lavish Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, the launch of a dedicated pop-up store and a party at the city’s Grand Hotel Plaza.
But Valli’s day started early Thursday morning with fittings held at the frescoed Brancaccio palazzo. “There are a lot of looks, right?” he said while switching two pictures of looks in the long lineup. “I really care about this, it’s not every day that Rome hosts big fashion events. It’s important for me,” he added.
The buzzing energy in the location, with puffy tulle numbers carried around for final adjustments, sewing machines setting the tempo and models getting acquainted with the looks they would be wearing for the show, seemed to disguise the tension, putting Valli in a good spirit.
“Have you seen ‘Euphoria’? It’s the same here. Ups and downs. Some times you feel like Rue, some times like Jules,” he joked, referencing the main characters of HBO’s hit series. It was just a hint of the mind-set the designer adopted while conceiving the collection, when he let the new generation’s open approach inspire him and remind him of his younger self.
But fittings were no good time for in-depth thoughts, so the designer asked WWD to join him on the ride to his next stop — a press conference — offering insights not only into the event and the collection, but also on his relationship with his now-widened circle of “friends” — as he defined his customers — a certain Instagram moment and his stance on the current political situation.
WWD: Let’s start from the beginning. Why did you accept this collaboration?
Giambattista Valli: Look, it was such an extraordinary proposal and so unexpected for us, because I never thought H&M would come and knock at my door. And I love everything that’s not ordinary, I’ve always been fascinated by that.
WWD: Did you change your approach in developing this collection?
G.V.: Yes, it was different in the sense that I had to say myself “OK, I have to share all this with a much wider group of friends” and to meet them I needed to adjust a little bit my work. I needed a Giambattista Valli in touch with H&M and its audience. Therefore there has been this continuous parallel dialogue between me and them.
WWD: Did you feel free to do what you had in mind?
G.V.: Absolutely, their whole creative team showed an incredible support. They immediately shared my vision, made their own, supported it and I was able to express myself freely. Now let’s see the results tonight [he smiled].
WWD: Which were the biggest challenges in the process?
G.V.: The biggest one was to succeed in being completely honest [with myself]. Honesty is at the core of my life and what I do in my work, so the goal was to deliver a different product compared to the one I usually do but that had the same intellectual and cultural content, the same depth and final effect, although reached through completely different ingredients. What I could bring to this larger group of friends was sharing this magic, because the most important thing for us working in this industry is to inspire people before even selling products. So I wanted to bring this cultural side of the work and show that behind this job there’s an atelier, there are seamstresses, a lot of details, embellishments. I wanted to bring all these on a wider platform, to people who maybe didn’t have the opportunity to see it but are very open to hear and receive this kind of storytelling. And I must admit I was so surprised because one of the most shocking moments of this collaboration was when we revealed the first drop of the collection and we had the highest social media reach registered by H&M, reaching 650 million users. I was so impressed because usually we’re in our maisons, doing our thing, there’s not this continuous contact with a larger audience and you don’t know how wide your circle of friends is. To know it was so vast was unexpected and gave me the best energy I ever had since I started to work in this industry.
WWD: Do you have a favorite dress or memory of that first drop?
G.V.: The neon pink tulle gown worn by Kendall Jenner recalls a fetish memory in my mind. It was a fantastic moment, we had so much fun doing the fitting. It was all about the enthusiasm of being on vacation, in Cannes, having my room next to hers, it was a fitting-party. But every piece in the collection is amazing for me.
WWD: And how was designing men’s wear for the first time?
G.V.: When they came to me asking to do men’s wear I said to myself it was something new, that I never did. Then I tried to remove this concept of doing men’s wear and women’s wear because luckily today there’s a wider vision and horizon, especially Gen Z is more used to gender fluidity and much more inclusive of each person’s freedom of expression. And I always tell that every collection is 50 percent what I do and 50 percent what others interpret, so everyone can do whatever he wants with it, like Kurt Cobain, who used to wear Courtney Love’s clothes effortlessly. […] Plus, generally designers steal something from men’s wardrobes to add to women’s ones, while I did the opposite. Giambattista Valli represents the more feminine side of an individual, whether it is a girl or a boy. So I took all the embellishments, fabrics and textures that are part of my DNA and made them accessible to everyone.
WWD: What about the overall inspiration?
G.V.: The collection is based on this idea of an after-party morning: you wake up, take the first pieces you find in the dark and you wear them, and everything works perfectly. It’s totally effortless. There’s no a specific geo-localization, it’s nomadic as the group of friends that surrounds me and the people that inspire me, who are not afraid of frontiers, they don’t even see them, and have this cultural curiosity and open mind. So there’s this clash of culture in the collection, like baggy bleached denim pants that you can see in Berlin next to a kimono shirt that you can see in Tokyo, an L.A. hoodie or a white shirt reminiscent of Casablanca. It’s the wardrobe of someone who travels, built up taking pieces from each place.
WWD: This will be also reflected in your casting, I guess. Last week you launched a street-casting call for the show with an Instagram post, plus there will be talents close to you also on this occasion.
G.V.: Yes, there will be people who have make the history of Giambattista Valli. For example, Kendall Jenner and Chiara Ferragni, who are the faces of the advertising campaign but have been amazing friends, ambassadors and supporters way before this whole project by bringing my vision on many red carpets, wearing my gowns in the most extraordinary moments. Kendall in Cannes but also at the Golden Globes last year, Chiara at the Vanity Fair party in L.A. or at the 90th anniversary event of Mickey Mouse at Disneyland in Paris. In such key moments, we’ve been loyal to each other. And again, I love these extraordinary moments, share dreams that become reality. It’s a little bit the opposite of consumerism. I want to create dresses that are dreams come true and that you keep for as long as possible, that become like and old friend you can’t separate yourself from and that gives you comfort. That’s why I say I don’t want to talk about fashion but style.
WWD: That’s interesting considering this collaboration is with a fast-fashion company.
G.V.: Yes, that’s true. But I consider fast-fashion important as it’s democratic and accessible to a wider group of people, but I can’t stand wastefulness.
WWD: Tell us a little more about why you wanted to show in Rome.
G.V.: I conceived this collection trying to imagine and meet the taste of this new generation, Gen Z, and I thought about when I was their age, when I used to live in Rome. Then I started to think about the Italy I would like to see today. […] There’s part of Italy that is more open-minded and I want to support as much as I can. In a world where there are leaders who build walls and close borders, this new generation sees things in a wider way and I really want to support that more and more. It’s a pity because the Italy I see now is falling back on itself instead of opening itself to the world, so I wanted to export and show a different side of my country, which is there, it exists and I want to support. Tonight we will have the show live-streamed here and in Times Square, we will have an after-party hosted by Ibiza’s Circoloco. There are all these international elements that make sense here because I always considered Rome international. It’s the original melting pot. Think of the different artistic styles — Renaissance meets Roman elements and Egyptian obelisks — or think how international it was during the years of Fellini. There’s always been this cultural clash here.
WWD: What’s next? Are you working on other similar projects?
G.V.: A vacation! [he laughs] I wish, but it won’t be possible. Once we archive this, we have the haute couture and then let’s see. I must admit this experience has been intense, we’ve been working on this for a year and a half. I really hope tonight I will see the joy in the eyes of the people who can finally buy these clothes, which they don’t see as surrogates but as honest Giambattista Valli pieces. I really worked so hard, put so much attention and care. Yes, the pleats may be in polyester or there might be less noble fabrics or more fast-fashion techniques but my attention to detail, creativity and savoir faire are the same I inject in my haute couture line.
The car stopped, it was almost time to meet the rest of the media at the futuristic La Lanterna location, a glass and steel rooftop structure overlooking Rome’s city center. Here, Valli reunited with Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative adviser at H&M, who described him as “a brilliant designer, a master of glamour, beauty and couture” before revealing the company “had been loving his work for many years and the time was right to do a collaboration.”
“To be divine, take every detail into consideration and don’t give up until everything is perfect is what we learned from him in the process,” she concluded.