PARIS — “I like the idea of Valentino goes street. It’s more interesting to me not to be distant,” Pierpaolo Piccioli said as he surveyed the mood board of his spring men’s collection at the brand’s headquarters on Place Vendôme.
The designer has made the bold choice this season not to include a single suit, the better to shine a light on his upscale take on sportswear — think track suits and Windbreakers embroidered with colored beads, and bright sneakers with ethnic flourishes such as detachable leather fringing.
“I wanted to be very precise on this idea of street. I think there’s a dignity in the street and in sports,” Piccioli said. “These pieces are really strong and of-the-moment. They express the culture of the moment and even the culture of the moment of the brand: couture meets street.”
Valentino is no stranger to the casualwear game: In recent years, its Rockstud and Rockrunner sneakers have earned cult status.
But since taking over the sole creative direction of the brand, following the departure of Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, Piccioli has been pushing increasingly adventurous looks, starting with his collaboration last season with Jamie Reid, the English artist best known for his Sex Pistols album cover art.
“Sometimes you have to be a little disruptive to express the feeling of the times,” he explained. “I’m doing sartorial and suits, but I think you can do sartorial pieces of sportswear, which is interesting to me: to add the sartorial feeling into the sportswear pieces.”
Hence, outerwear pieces that combine double cashmere with nylon, and basics with a twist, like chino pants with a tucked pleat at the back of the leg, or a white shirt with a buttoned scarf at the neck.
“I think that sportswear is the new way of wearing daywear. Doing sportswear in a company that does couture means that you do sportswear in a different way, because the culture of couture means the care of every single detail, the uniqueness of the pieces themselves,” he argued.
Piccioli has even come up with a logo to channel the new-look Valentino: VLTN.
“I was working on late Eighties and early Nineties logos from our archives and I was not really into the logo, but I saw that all the young kids that work with me, they were crazy about this. Because, sometimes, what’s new is what you don’t know,” he said.
“So I tried to see the same logo with fresh eyes, and in the end, I really liked it,” he added, noting that although the name has been shortened, the original font has been maintained. “It’s more current. When you see it, you immediately think Valentino.”
Like many of his peers, Piccioli does not necessarily design for himself. His working uniform on Monday evening consisted of a black T-shirt and black pants.
“I do believe in the values I want to deliver with the collection, for sure, and I would wear many of the pieces I design, but I don’t project myself into the collection,” he explained.
“In a way, I think I approach men and women in the same way. I start thinking what kind of man or woman I want to represent, which kinds of values I want to deliver with the collection, because I feel that my job is about giving a vision of beauty for the times I am living in,” the designer added.
“The idea of beauty as diversity, as uniqueness, as being one of a kind, very individual and personal, is valid both for men and for women,” he noted. “Today, I think that if men are able to show their more fragile, more emotional side, that’s a big conquest.”
This season, Piccioli was interested in exploring the meeting of sports and craft — which he sees as metaphors for, on the one hand, a man’s social, digitally attuned side; on the other, his private hankering for an emotional connection.
“I feel that everybody is looking for diversity, for uniqueness, for emotion, for something that you can really feel, not just see on a screen,” he said. “I wanted to do desirable pieces with this human feeling.”
Pointing to a black leather biker jacket with slits through the shoulders and back, he said the pieces were designed to be appropriated by the customer. “It’s a universal piece, but you redo it your own way,” he said. “I don’t like to give rules. I like to give opportunities to express yourself.”
In that sense, Piccioli is attuned to several key shifts in the men’s wear sector: the spread of business-casual dress codes and the growing sophistication of the men’s wear customer.
“Before, men had to dress the part. Now you can be yourself and you can just wear your T-shirt, even because many of the jobs today are younger. If you think of all the people who are working on the web, on music, they are young people. They don’t need to wear a suit and tie to be credible,” he said.
He notes that even the core Valentino customer has changed.
“It’s predominantly the more casual guy. That’s interesting, because people used to think the Valentino guy is a more formal guy. But actually it’s the customer buying sneakers, buying items like T-shirts, shirts. It’s the same customer, I think, of all the other brands,” Piccioli said. “I think this also is different: before, maybe two decades ago, you had your own customer. Now, people are more informed about fashion for men and so they choose as women do. And you choose whatever you like or you pick from different brands.”
In an increasingly crowded men’s wear market, he is betting on Valentino’s roots as a Roman couture house to tell a distinctive story. “Getting the idea of the culture of couture into something like sneakers is important for a brand like Valentino,” he said.
At the same time, he doesn’t want the sportswear looks to feel too pimped-up. “They have to stay street, even with a touch of couture, but they have to maintain the authenticity of the pieces, not to change their essential spirit,” he maintained.
Piccioli hopes his approach will continue to yield steady gains for the men’s wear division of the brand. Valentino, which is controlled by the Qatar-based Mayhoola Group, posted revenues of 1.1 billion euros in 2016, up 13 percent year-on-year, breaking through the barrier of one billion euros for the first time.
“Men is growing a lot, but season by season in a constant way. To me that’s important. I would like to open more stores for men,” Piccioli said.
“I think it’s important to grow, but to grow slowly and consistently to create your own customer so that they come back and they buy because they appreciate the craft and the quality,” he added.
The best way to achieve this, he is convinced, is to keep working by instinct — something he has done ever since joining Valentino in 1999 as an accessories designer.
“You have to break the rules and to give something new,” he said, adding that he is against marketing-driven design. “To me, fashion is about giving men or women something that they will desire, but they won’t desire it until they see it. So it’s something more subtle.”