Valentino Pre-Fall 2021

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Pierpaolo Piccioli is busy keeping Valentino’s re-signification going, the line of thought about identity, humanity, and radicalism around which he’s been tailoring his practice since last year. “Today, more than ever, aesthetics are determined by identity,” he said during a Zoom conversation we had about his new pre-fall collection. “To make Valentino’s codes and values pertinent for today, I want to keep a firm hold on its identity while shifting its signifiers, giving them a new attribution.”

What does that mean, exactly? “It means giving a more human dimension to Valentino’s lexicon, less obviously glamorous,” Piccioli said. “Not because I condemn red carpet glamour, but because today, there’s the need of a new warmth, of more humanity. So you have to open up those codes, giving them new life and the freedom to speak through more personal, individual interpretations.”

And what is more individual, personal, and human than a portrait? For pre-fall Piccioli lensed the look book himself, with a cast of Italian beauties not all of whom are models, but rather friends and young women “with something to say,” he explained. The collection was intended as a series of individual pieces underlining the unique, non-clichéd humanity of each woman and her non-stereotyped representation of femininity. “The way I approached the shoot was a metaphor of what I’m doing at Valentino,” explained Piccioli. “Models for me are individuals, persone. This is a moment in time where humanity is paramount. The whole cultural discourse about inclusivity, accepting and enhancing diversities, and the freedom of expressing oneself—it’s just about putting humanity front and center as a non-negotiable social, political, and personal value.”

Shot in an empty yet decadent Roman palazzo, with chiaroscuro light giving each image a painterly, metaphysical aura, the collection paid a telling homage to Valentino’s culture of couture, even if it consisted mostly of daywear. Dégradé embroideries in macro sequins, wool knots, and beads; handmade taffeta and lace intarsia; bouillonné rosettes and thread-made appliqués; embellishments made through a complex carving techniques—these and other couture flourishes were lavished on clean-cut coats and capes in double cashmere, everyday pieces of luxurious ease. Red roses, an homage to the famous Valentino flamingo dress, were stitched on a sweatshirt in vermilion cady, while a simple shirt in crisp pale blue poplin was inlaid with individually cut florals selected from different types of see-through lace.

“When I talk about couture, I’m not talking about how many hours of painstaking handcrafted work go into each one of the fabulous pieces coming out of our atelier,” Piccioli said. “I’m talking about its culture and about the culture you need to have to understand and appreciate what couture is about. Couture is essentially about putting the person, the wearer, at the very center. It’s about care, intimacy. It emphasizes uniqueness and individuality; it’s a celebration of the humanity that’s so close to my heart.”

To Piccioli, re-signification is about making Valentino’s couture codes meaningful and appealing for younger audiences with a spontaneous, highly individual approach to style (he calls it ‘punk’), but also for women whose attitude, regardless of age, is more about embracing who they are than adhering to stereotypical codes of self-representation. He obviously thinks about his Gen Z daughters, who keep him in check through constant conversations, but also about stars like Frances McDormand, who howled her acceptance speech at the Oscars in a black Valentino number she already had in her wardrobe. “Frances is a friend and a fabulous artist who thinks completely outside the box,” said Piccioli. “Her choices are based on her very own beliefs. You wouldn’t describe her as a celebrity. She is a person.”

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