a thumbs up collection by Pierpaolo Piccioli
SPRING 2018 COUTURE@Valentino
PARIS, JANUARY 25, 2018
by SARAH MOWER
If the skill of squaring circles can be pulled off anywhere in fashion, it ought to be in haute couture—it even sounds like an obscure cutting technique. But here are the apparent irreconcilables: How can a designer toss around operatic shapes, bows, and traditional fantasy, meanwhile convincing a modern woman there’s a way she can approach wearing it? Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino couture solved the contradictions in his opening look: a gloriously puffy yellow-ochre faille coat, shrugged over what looked like Carhartt-brown trousers and a simple white tank—with a giant aquamarine ostrich feather saucer hat floating above. Yes: If you’re a damn cool casual woman, you can come to the couture ball after all.
This Paris haute couture season has been wanting someone to let loose with feathers and wildly clashing colors and an unfettered sense of fantasia, albeit without going down any tiresomely stereotyped princess route. Piccioli was the man who nailed it, simply by introducing the idea that couture can also mean trousers (though possibly in dusty pink or turquoise moire silk), an oh-so-easy foil for the grandmotherly extravagance of a sweeping ’50s opera coat or a ’60s tunic cocktail top.
The thing about Piccioli is that he’s also a walking contradiction: a down-to-earth dreamer. The fantasy excited in him as a boy by seeing glamorous magazine photographs of ’50s-through-‘80s haute couture is balanced by his equal respect for the people who dedicate their skills to making every piece materialize. “I hate it when they’re called ‘petite mains.’ They are not ‘hands,’ they’re people.” Without the specialists who work in the ateliers of Valentino in Rome no rules can either be bent or gloriously elaborated on. They were the people who made possible the image of the chaste Renaissance princesses with which Piccioli and (then) Maria Grazia Chiuri changed fashion in the late aughts. They’re the ones who can now also swivel in this new direction for the house at Piccioli’s bidding. petite cocktail dresses
He made a point of naming each look after its maker—thereby honoring the huge scope of the capabilities of Valentino, and widening the chances of many kinds of women (given a certain level of income) finding themselves among the variety. It’s not that the ingenue has completely been banished. Sparkly fairy-tale dresses are to be found under this roof, but there are now many more ways to be and feel brilliantly dressed. One can own one’s identity by being drop-dead simple, or flamboyantly, colorfully impressive. Whatever, it was a longed-for breakthrough.