Pierpaolo Piccioli belongs to the small but growing band of designers who’ve realised that the ivory tower, old-school rigmaroles of luxury fashion shows are becoming a thing of the past. “I think that we have to step forward, not step back, and that’s why I didn’t want to go back to Paris and show in a palace, or any of the places we showed before,” he said.
So, to mark the return of Valentino’s ready-to-wear to Paris, he took over the old marketplace at the Carreau du Temple, and a row of neighbouring cafés and restaurants opposite, to put on a joyful all-gendered show reunion symbolically blurring the distinctions between insiders and outsiders.
“It has been such such a tough moment. That’s why I decided to get Valentino into a new dimension: life,” he said, amidst a backstage scene packed with young people who were getting ready to walk along the street for everyone to see, before filing back into the market space where the regular invited audience were seated at café tables.
Piccioli, much loved in the industry for his warmth and down-to-earth lack of snobbery, felt the rupture of the past two years meant it has finally come time to put words and fine intentions into action. “I’ve been talking for a long time about making a shift, embracing a new generation, a new world,” he said. “And also to be leading a change. You know, Mr. Valentino took part in engaging with youth in the ’60s. That was a revolutionary time. So I think this is my way of doing that today: keeping the codes and the couture values, and talking about a beauty which is about humanity and a shared wardrobe.”
With refreshing candour, he said he didn’t really want to speak about clothes, inspirations, and narratives. “Fashion is about clothes—but it’s also about people wearing clothes. If I had to add words to talk about the storytelling, maybe my mission was not accomplished. Because I want to talk more about our community of people, sharing values—rather than a group of individuals that share the surfaces of a lifestyle. It’s more about celebrating diversity in a joyous way. “
He pitched the production towards embracing Gen Zers with a proposition of a beautiful, casualised couture wardrobe designed to float between genders: lightweight taffeta tailoring in vivid colours, plethoras of dresses from minuscule and cutaway to sweeping, embroidered caftans. The mini-maxi proportion play—like billowy volumes teamed with micro-shorts—provided a translated house glamour that captured everything the TikTok generation might relate to.
Still, there was also classic Valentino symbolism dotted through the collection. The opening look, an organdy flower-embroidered blouse and tiny skirt, referred to Valentino Garavani’s all-white collection of 1968—immortalised in a photograph of Marisa Berenson. There was a reproduction of a slim, tiger-striped maxi coat, famously worn by Veruschka the following year—and to end with, a pair of floaty, flower-printed dresses from the ’70s.
“Well, this is how I used to relate to Valentino when I was a kid myself—I came from far away from it. I dreamed about it through seeing fashion photographs, never the clothes, or the shows themselves,” Piccioli said. A personal memory of his own youth was immortalised in the relaunch of a pair of high-waisted jeans: “This is from the first denim collection Valentino launched in the ’80s, which I had,” he laughed. On the back of the jeans was the very fashion advert—likely Bruce Weber—which had brought Piccioli to buy into the brand in the first place.
History repeating, in a way? Democratising and making a high-flown brand relatable to a new generation of consumers is of course the task and responsibility of pretty much every creative director today. Rare though, is the person in charge who can do that without dumbing down, patronising, or cheapening either the product or the legacy of a great house. Pierpaolo Piccioli is doing all of that. It was a sociable, relaxed, celebratory moment where the future he believes in felt real.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.