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Ratner shot by David Sims for Valentino’s spring 2017 campaign.

“This was a very interesting year,” said Pierpaolo Piccioli from Rome the day before New Year’s Eve. Many people the world over would agree with him for grand-scale reasons, but, as the fashion industry knows, on a personal level, 2016 was the year that Piccioli and his longtime creative partner Maria Grazia Chiuri ended their 20-plus year professional marriage to go their separate ways. Chiuri headed to Dior while he remained at Valentino, where they had been co-creative directors for eight successful years. Anyone wondering if Piccioli could keep up the brilliant work and hold his own at Valentino got a firm answer with his breathtaking spring show.

Piccioli is wasting no time getting into 2017, opening the year with three runway shows in January: pre-fall in New York, followed by men’s and then couture. “I’m really happy to face new challenges,” he said. To that end, one of his first major projects launching in the new year is the spring ad campaign, the first representing Valentino under Piccioli’s personal creative vision. It was photographed by David Sims in two parts — first, backstage at the spring runway show; and second, a series of powerful black-and-white portraits of seven models, including Christy Turlington, Liya Kebede, Ratner, Fei Fei Sun, Lorena Maraschi, Blesnya Minher and Mali Koopman. The images will break Jan. 4 on Valentino’s digital channels and in February print issues, appearing as spreads juxtaposing the portraits and the backstage shots and as single pages.

For Piccioli, the campaign is less about clothes than a statement of his values for the brand. “I wanted to celebrate beauty as individuality and the one-of-a-kind,” he said. That translated to casting women across diverse ethnicities and age brackets. “I didn’t want to have an ideal woman,” said Piccioli. “I didn’t want to talk about the age and race, I just like them for what they are. There are no rules — no young or less young.…I didn’t want to create a tribe of women; ultimately I wanted to get individuality.”

Could his emphasis on the individual bear relevance to Piccioli’s new independence at Valentino’s creative helm? Perhaps. Asked if he thought about this campaign differently than those he worked on with Chiuri, he said. “I didn’t want this campaign to celebrate the collection, I wanted it to celebrate the values…it’s about the spirit, the feelings, the moment. More than usual? I don’t know. I didn’t think how it could be different, I just did what I felt.”

The spring show was certainly a special moment for him, which was partly why he asked Sims to shoot backstage, to document the milestone, but also because: “I feel there’s authenticity and emotion in the real moment of the backstage,” said Piccioli. “I didn’t want to miss that because it’s very spontaneous and fresh.” In addition to individuality and emotion, authenticity and realness is a key value. To that end, the models are not heavily made up in the portraits. In fact, Turlington is strikingly barefaced. “You don’t have to decorate beauty,” said Piccioli. “You have to catch it as it is.”