Rebels come in various guises, and they don’t always shout. Mariano Fortuny was a fashion rebel, purveyor not only of undulating pleats but freedom of movement, the latter associated as well with the great subversive dancers he dressed — Ruth St. Denis, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham. In their creative ascent, Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have proven themselves rebels of a sort, passionate champions of romance in an age of cynicism.
If that’s not the stuff of a fashion connection, what is? As the spring haute couture season wound down, Chiuri and Piccioli presented another stellar collection, this time inspired by Fortuny and his dancing muses. They pooh-poohed convention, Piccioli noted backstage preshow, changing perceptions of dress, of performance and ultimately, of women. He talked as well about haute timelessness and celebration of the imperfect. “In imperfection,” he said, “you can feel the human touch that stimulates the other senses, not only the eyes.”
Alas, couture calls for a near-perfect rendering of the imperfect, and the designers delivered with clothes as exquisitely crafted as they were conceptualized. The Fortuny ruse was shown in pleating (done by hand and therefore “imperfect”) and in loose, linear references to the sartorial iconoclasm of the early 20th century. In a nod to that era’s modernist theatricality with classical allusions of its own, the models wore golden snake headpieces and walked in bare, bejeweled feet through pale leaves and petals strewn across the floor. Some gowns, particularly a white interlude, would have the turned the godly heads of Mount Olympus. Others drew from a broad palette of earthy neutrals to reds, golds and greens, all muted ever so slightly, as if by time.
While far from plain, the clothes weren’t overly decorated, as the designers made careful use of obvious sparkle. More often, they created interest with fabric treatments — an intricate patchwork of brocades, hand-painted gold medallions on red velvet and giant butterflies embroidered at the hem of a pristine white gown.
Speaking of gowns — they ruled. This collection was all about evening. And emotion. And beauty. Couture doesn’t get better than that.