Nietzsche. Fra Angelico. Gutenberg. Hieronymus Bosch. Zandra Rhodes.
You might assume the list is someone’s well-rehearsed answer to “Which five people would you most want to have dinner with?” Then again, probably not, since this is a review of Pierpaolo Piccioli’s spring collection for Valentino, his first effort as solo creative director since the departure of his long-time partner, Maria Grazia Chiuri, for Dior.
While Chiuri must define her Dior from scratch, this is a moment of more oblique transition for Piccioli and the house of Valentino. Partnerships are distinct yet amorphous entities; sometimes the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Though Piccioli need not redefine the house aesthetic developed so astutely under his and Chiuri’s watch — who’d want him to? — given his human condition, he must feel the need to prove his prowess as a solo creative director. In his on-my-own debut, he made the case exquisitely that Valentino’s creative future is in good hands.
As for the not-dinner guests, during a preview, Piccioli referenced each. Fifteenth-century art informs his sense of beauty, particularly the work of Fra Angelico. Gutenberg’s printing press changed the world by bringing culture to the masses, a parallel to the role of social media today. Bosch fused worlds, too, not only those of here-and-now (or there-and-then) earthliness with paradise lost and found in his Earthly Garden, but artistic constructs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance; Rhodes (she of the ever-so-progressive pink hair back when), whose punk proclivities represent for Piccioli the concept of individuality. His interest in her turned into a collaboration: He commissioned her to create prints based on Bosch’s garden. “I wanted to feel free to use all of these in my own very personal way, to connect to even things I’m not connected to, to Zandra and the Renaissance.” Whew!
As for Nietzsche, Piccioli invoked the philosopher’s jargon about forgetting the past to embrace the future. This proved the most difficult association to buy into, as the designer wisely continued his course of chic romanticism. He did make procedural changes, shifting date and venue, from the Tuileries on Tuesday to the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild on Sunday afternoon, a not-exactly-new venue; he and Chiuri showed their couture there. The intimacy of its lovely salons proved double sided, on one hand, imparting a sense of intimacy; on the other, allowing only fleeting sightings of the fashion from some vantage points.
Those with limited views were cheated; these clothes deserved to be seen. Piccioli channeled his Renaissance preoccupation into a rich palette and silhouettes of varying degrees of drama, some infused with a dash of Seventies — though not too much — perhaps in homage to Rhodes. Sometimes, Piccioli packed a lot into a dress, handling it so gently it never jarred: a gentle trapeze of lace and pleated chiffon and velvet in blocks of color; a heart-and-dagger motif opening into bicolored released pleats.
With Chiuri (who turned out in support, as he did for her at Dior), Piccioli digressed from the day-through-evening approach of the house founder, to focus on evening clothes. Here, Piccioli hinted at a broader offering to come, with daywear that played seamlessly to the romance while staying real: colorful velvet jacquard pants (get past how it sounds; they worked), one with a trench-cum-cape and the other, a smartly tricked-out sweater and intricately decorated coats. With apologies to Nietzsche, not forgetting the past. Rather, pushing it forward.