Pierpaolo Piccioli — iconoclast? Just maybe. These are strange times in fashion, strange enough that one of the industry’s most prominent designers, installed at one of its most storied houses, could reasonably attain distinction. Piccioli goes his own way. He embraces calm amidst cacophony. He’s aware of, but not obsessed by, casualization and street. And, at a time when the culture’s prevailing cynicism has infiltrated all levels of fashion, he believes in the affirmative power of beauty.

In opposition to darker, more caustic runway statements elsewhere, for the Valentino collection he showed on Sunday, Piccioli delivered an ode to romance. Not in the sense of romantic love, but, Piccioli said during a preview, “as an individual, personal, passionate approach to life. I think that is a real strength today, to be able to be fierce, to be strong and gentle at the same time, not to be aggressive but to be assertive. I started this collection with this idea of romanticism as a strength and not as a fragility.”

To that end, Piccioli made a near-universal symbol of romance — flowers — the collection’s focal point. But rather than present them as demure or precious, he subverted cliché by blowing them up into big, powerful graphics, he said, “to turn the stereotype of romanticism into something bold and strong.”

Bold, strong and exquisitely beautiful. And inventive. Piccioli’s work is often cited for its lyricism but not necessarily its innovation. Yet for all their refinement, his cuts have a lot going on — folding, wrapping, draping. For fall, Piccioli favored a long silhouette for dresses, jackets and coats almost always worn over straight, lean trousers. Not merely decorative, his giant floral intarsias formed part of the structure of these clothes, shaping neckline, bodice or sleeve, equally lovely, whether in black and white or dusty pastels. Piccioli alluded to flowers in other ways as well, in the scalloped edges that ran down the length of paneled dresses and in outerwear with voluptuous hoods featuring petal-like folds. 

For all their elegance, many of the clothes worked a sophisticated flamboyance. The Valentino woman may be a romantic, but she’s no shrinking violet. 

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