#SuzyPFW: At Valentino, Romanticism Means Strength, Not Fragility
On the eve of the Oscars, Valentino sent out a pearl of a collection – romantic, fresh, and elegant in painterly colours. The clothes, always graceful and never vulgar, would have dressed half of Hollywood in the genteel mode of this post-Weinstein period.
The designer, Pierpaolo Piccioli, who always has feminine decency at the heart of his work, talked about his parade in an airy new show space of a transparent tent planted on grass.
“My collection started from my personal idea that romanticism is a strength and not fragility,” said the designer, surrounded by models wearing his graceful dresses with pansy flowers shown in many different ways as ornamentation.
“This decency and beauty is what we should be seeing at the Oscars – and for me that is important,” said the designer. “Sometimes you have the stereotypes of the red carpet or of the office. But I think if you have femininity in the office and ease on the red carpet, you are going to look beautiful.”
It is hard to understand the secret skills of the designer without looking close up at the clothes. Unlike last season where pieces, often sporty, seemed to slip around a body dedicated to healthy exercise, the Autumn/Winter 2018 collection was less casual and more refined.
The show was bookended by black and white dresses and by hyperbolic pansies, their big, flat flowers forming shoulder pieces like a cape or appearing on the high-waisted skirt under a narrow velvet bodice. In between came many other versions of oversized flowers – scarlet poppies, petunias smothered in crystals and undefinable, giant blooms spreading right up to the head where they translated into flowery bonnets. The general effect of this mass of blooms was similar to Georgia O’Keeffe’s gigantic floral images, but without her frank sexuality.
Much of Pierpaolo’s work was covered up and deliberately decent, if not verging on prudish. Hemlines were almost entirely ankle length, sometimes with an additional pair of trousers emerging over boots. There might be a lightly veiled leg seen through a waft of chiffon or a scooped-down bodice on a white dress, but otherwise, the decoration came in craftsmanship and colour.
And what colours! The painterly shades alone would mark the designer as an artist. They appeared in so many tones from blush pink to scarlet, cerulean blue, vivid red, green and mustard-gold. Most delicate were the shades of green, as varied as in a spring potage or a vegetable garden.
The real skill of the collection and the reason why Pierpaolo is such an exceptional designer for Valentino, is that he uses technical skills so specialised that they are difficult for anyone outside the world of seamstresses to understand. Yet the complex work appears to be so simple.
I asked Pierpaolo what lies at the heart of his work.
“I feel I am a romantic and so I started by asking the meaning of being a romantic today,” he said. “It’s important to talk about a more gentle approach to life. But I think that you can be gentle and strong at the same time, you don’t need to be aggressive. You can be assertive and gentle at the same time.”
My final question was how his view of the world affects his designs.
“For all the clichés, romanticism is something bolder and stronger,” said Pierpaolo. “There are, of course, flowers but there’s not one print of flowers. All the flowers are structures of the clothes, so they are big – not tiny little flowers. They are Brâncuși silhouettes, elongated and bold. I want to get the zeitgeist of flowers.”