As Pierpaolo Piccioli ushered his ateliers out from behind the doors of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Valentino Garavani rose to his feet, tears streaming down his face. The seamstresses, also crying, rushed over to Mr. Valentino; kissing him, hugging him, holding him. It was an emotionally-charged tribute at the conclusion of Maison Valentino’s Haute Couture show; a stream of beaming, white coated men and women pouring onto a stage typically reserved for the designer and his models, a moment of beautiful anarchy which laid bare the true bones of haute couture – the atelier and its adroit couturiers – of whom traditionally sit behind the seams. And yet this was only just the tip of the iceberg in a show that could quite possibly be Piccioli’s best.
“It’s about the idea of individualism,” Piccioli told Vogue Runway, a “fantasy world” explored not just in his work but in the casting. Models Lauren Hutton, Cecilia Chancellor, Georgina Grenville and Hannelore Knuts all walked, ranging from 40s to mid-70s, it was a powerful message often amiss in Paris, and more broadly speaking, fashion as a whole. As last season’s couture focused on inclusivity (he famously cast 45 black models of 65), this season was about diversity, of age, skin colour and culture.
But this idea of individualism was perhaps most compelling in his design; a collection of extraordinary colour, print, and craftsmanship rich in cultural motifs, Piccioli let his imagination soar to breathtaking new heights.
Colour was arguably the star; an exuberant palette, which along with its striking solus pigment made for moments of exceptional, albeit unexpected colour-blocking. There was violet and soft mint, brilliant cerulean and brick red, pink and pale chartreuse, Piccioli’s use of colour – both harmoniously and incongruously – seemed irrepressible, a kind of sumptuous feast you kept referring back to, both addictive and unusual all the same.
But in a show of so many exhilarating highs, unpacking its worth and merit is a difficult task. Where to begin? Its handiwork was technically deft, painstaking and sublime. One dress with floral appliqués took 990 hours alone to construct, another 2,010 hours, a process almost unfathomable in this world of fast everything. There was what Piccioli referred to as “folk” elements; lofty wool fringing, folkloric hats and traditional embroidery, tying back seamlessly to this broader idea of individualism and culture.
Silhouette was larger than life; voluminous gowns both buoyant and brilliant, cocoon sleeves exaggerated and sweeping, capacious tops trapeze in style. And for all the plumes, intricate appliqué and whisper-thin tulle, there were simple satin capes, down-the-line dresses made of crêpe and casual slouched boots; the understated and the extravagant in perfect balance.
In the rarefied week of haute couture, Pierpaolo Piccioli is fast establishing himself as the courier par excellence, not just through his exceptional art, but his moral standing, optimism and (hopefully) not so impossible dreams.