Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli’s two most recent Valentino ready-to-wear shows have been well-played examples of how the runway can be topical, though not necessarily political, as well as a source of exceptional fashion.
The shows came from opposite ends of the current-event spectrum. Last season closed with a jaw-dropping display of unexpected comic timing when Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson resumed their roles as Derek Zoolander and Hansel, respectively, as they began production on Zoolander 2. For spring, Chiuri and Piccioli ripped their inspiration from the front-page headlines: Immigration.
Hollywood spoof versus global refugee crisis — which theme won that walk-off? You’d be surprised.
“Wow, I’ll take that over Ben Stiller,” said Bergdorf Goodman’s Joshua Schulman on his way out of the venue. And from Neiman Marcus’ Karen Katz: “This is why we’re in fashion.”
Chiuri and Piccioli are forces of fashion nature, churning out blockbuster collections one after the next at the relentless pace that oversees couture, rtw and men’s demands. They haven’t missed a mark in recent memory, but this season they sensed that if they don’t change, their perfect record could. To that end, the immigration hook — Africa, specifically — was less a political statement than a convenient way to explore sources of rich visual and cultural context other than Rome, which has been their guiding creative light for a while, not to mention the subject and setting of July’s couture extravaganza. “After Roma we really felt that we had to let our eyes travel somewhere else,” said Piccioli before the show, noting that immigration is a defining factor of the times. “This is the time to see the integration of different cultures, to create new balances between our safe aesthetic and crossing a new culture.”
He and Chiuri didn’t fully explain why Africa was their focal point, but drawing on its various tribes, as well as the influence it had over artists including Picasso and Braque, certainly gave the designers a lot with which to work. And they did so beautifully, crafting enough exquisite treatments to make a fashion lover’s head explode.
There were colorful patchworks, both folkloric and modern. Tribal embroideries were worked up and down sleeves and collars of day dresses. Two gowns in blush tulle delicately embroidered with white tribal markings and trimmed in majestic ivory feathers around the collars and cuffs were absolutely breathtaking. A wild tie-dye moment represented more robust daywear options, with athletic military jackets and cargo pants worn with backless fringed knits. Leather work was exceptional, on the woven mesh dresses suspended from etched harnesslike tops, carved corsets layered over printed dresses and a maxiskirt cut in vertical strips of studded leather layered over a black lace dress. Some of the collection’s most impressive moments came when Chiuri and Piccioli interwove indigenous African motifs with others that were classically Western.
Africa gave the collection something vivid, glamorized by gorgeous oversize tribal jewelry. Yet the familiar dress shapes — shifts and slender columns with simple high necks, many with straight, long sleeves — imposed order. Along with world-class craft, this specific silhouette remained the core of the collection. It does not appear to be going out of style any time soon, but Chiuri and Piccioli seem to know that what is hot will eventually cool. They don’t intend to rest on their Roman laurels.