When Pierpaolo Piccioli was announced as the sole creative director of Valentino in the wake of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s departure to Dior earlier this summer, it ended an artistic collaboration that had seen the pair working together for nearly 30 years. Grazia Chiuri showed her first collection post-Valentino on Friday. At Dior she could begin again, and the collection was an opportunity to identify her singular point of view. Pierpaolo Piccioli has a different challenge at Valentino. Already in the job for eight years, his exacting eye and romantic sensibility have helped transform the fortunes of the Qatari-owned Valentino group to become a billion-dollar brand (which is expected to IPO, given the right climate, in the forthcoming years).
He has no need to tamper with the formulas. Rather than a new beginning, Piccioli’s first outing would be an interesting recalibration: which Valentino codes would stay, and which would see the door?
Answer: neither, really. Piccioli’s collection was described as “punk meets Hieronymus Bosch” but was in fact quite pink and sugary, and very Valentino: a waltz around the garden of earthly delights in strawberry-sundae-pink pleat dresses, laces and rainbow-coloured silks, all slung with tiny minaudière charm bags no bigger than a compact case. The palette should have come as no surprise: the fuchsia-haired 76-year-old British designer Zandra Rhodes had worked on the collection and her delicate floral silk prints came in every shade of pink, from bubblegum to blush and from damson to rose.
It’s not the first time the brand has worked with a legendary British printmaker: it worked with Celia Birtwell on two collections last year. “She’s my icon,” explained Piccioli backstage, of Zandra Rhodes’ role, as the flashlights popped around him. How had full independence felt? “For me, everything is about the emotional,” he answered. “How do you trace a Renaissance painting by Leonardo da Vinci to punk or to Zandra? It has to be emotional. The emotion is the only way to connect the path.”
There were lots of emotions here. Grazia Chiuri had turned up, and was in tears. Valentino Garavani, now 84 years old and still unshakeably noble-looking, stood stoically for portraits as models wandered around like flower-children lost in the forest of fashion.
But despite the heightened anticipation, there were no huge departures; the dresses were still ethereal and gentle, the lines long, the girls pretty. If there was a point of difference, it was that the looks seemed more indulgently romantic. Grazia Chiuri spoke of her disdain for colour last week when introducing her Dior; in her absence Piccioli had been splashier with the paint pot. Lime-green tights and fuchsia shoes; lemon yellow and pistachio. There were none of the monochromatic costume pieces or the darker moods; the big historical silhouettes had been clipped back and made less formal, more fluid.
It was a feature I missed in this 64-look show of unfettered femininity. Sometimes, I felt, the sugar levels were a little overgenerous. I would have liked to have seen a few more of the lean, draped leather skirts and vests that very occasionally punctuated the pink. For most others, however, Piccioli’s fondant punks were a delectable treat.