It takes confidence, not just a game sense of humor, to close your show with the walkoff for which the world has been waiting 14 years: Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, in character as Derek Zoolander and Hansel, were the surprise final exits of Valentino’s fall show. (Both modeled looks from Valentino men’s.) The joke landed. The crowd lapped it up. It was a fantastic, genuinely funny moment that anyone who decided to skip the show was surely sad they missed.
A lesser collection would have been outright upstaged, but the “Zoolander” spoof was a generous bonus to an essentially perfect show. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli are good sports, but they take fashion very seriously, continually raising the bar with imaginative decorative effects and deluxe fabrications within the airtight aesthetic language they’ve established. Two famous muses fueled this season’s fantasy: Celia Birtwell, the wife of Ossie Clark and muse to David Hockney, and Emilie Louise Flöge; best known as companion and frequent subject of Gustav Klimt, she was also a couturier of Wiener Werkstätte-style fashion. Both women brought rich, creative textile associations to the table, of which Chiuri and Piccioli made incredible use. Birtwell also collaborated on the “funky” dragon that appeared toward the end of the lineup. “Women can be multifaceted,” said Chiuri backstage. “They can be muses, they can be artists. And our collections speak about this in a simple way.”
Simple didn’t begin to cover it.
The show opened with stark black-and-white graphics on a trench with vertically striped arms, a horizontally striped hem and a patchwork of checks and triangles on the body. Optically entrancing, the patterns played out on dresses and easy sweaters over full midiskirts that had immediate impact. Considering the source material, the collection had a surprising amount of black, worked sparely on daywear and opulently — often embroidered with gold and silver threadwork — for evening. But there was ample color, too, in the subtle glimmer of gold on multicolored furs; a crimson red gown; burgundy, ice, pink and yellow lace arranged in crafty chevron patterns; the intense blue, red, black and gold of a geometric Viennese patterned gown. There were too many impressive, couture-level treatments to list, all of them impeccable.
The lurking criticism is that the delicately monastic silhouette the designers have become devoted to needs to evolve. But who can complain when the work is so exquisite? Besides, that point ignores the smart, ongoing expansion of their day range, and the fact that Chiuri and Piccioli did offer variation on their high-collared, long-sleeve, regal uniform for fall, tweaking proportions to give newness beyond nuance. There were cropped midcalf culottes and skirts the same length. Shoulders had capelet panels in the front and back, and high necks were graced with delicate bows tied to the side. Gowns plunged into deep V-necks, point d’esprit shoulders and sheer bustlines framed with floral embroideries. Romance turned sensual, heightening as the looks marched on. Then it all ended with a big laugh. The show satisfied on every level.