Staged on a multi-racial cast, to a soundtrack of great soul classics, this was a truly sensational show and collection, which cements Pierpaolo Piccioli’s reputation as the preeminent couturier of the moment.
A blend of uber opulence, luscious eccentricity, superlative casting and Pharaoh-like headgear, this brilliant display earned and merited a standing ovation from an audience that included Gwyneth Paltrow, Celine Dion and Naomi Campbell.
Gasps, exclamations and cheers greeted the opening looks: from a canary yellow ensemble of cascading chiffon ruffled skirt multi-rosette top and wool rag doll wig, to an ochre faille crushed top that looked like it had emerged from a car crash worn over lilac trousers and a bitter-lemon silk belt. A huge yelp of enthusiasm greeted the appearance of Lauren Hutton in a lime silk gathered dress and oatmeal double-face cashmere coat with encrusted lapel.
There was a moment half way through the 71-look show when Piccioli suddenly went into overdrive. Fantasy landscapes on sequined columns, swirling intarsia cloaks, layered paisley gowns, all finished with pompons, wooly mop wigs and seductive Nubian princess fabric crowns. One of those fashion moments, when all the editors, stylists, critics and aficionados caught each other’s eyes and collectively nodded immense respect.
Nina Simone on the soundtrack, models wearing the coats that took 1,700 hours to create. In the program, each look was attributed to individual seamstresses in the Valentino atelier.
It would perhaps be futile to suggest any classifications of designers in couture – each couturier follows their own very different star. Yet the superlative quality of this collection was such that a comparison of this kind also felt almost unfair, so in advance of his colleagues does Pierpaolo Piccioli appear to be today.
But what does all this rarefied beauty mean? Great fashion is meant to be, at least in part, a commentary on our times. Well, one could hazard, surely it is no coincidence that the remarkable explosion of fashion in the past two generations has coincided with half a century of liberal democracy and the growing independence of women.
And that this current season of haute couture with its particularly rarefied and romantic visions of style is also a call for sensitivity and elegance precisely at a moment when non-liberal, authoritarian, vulgar macho politicians control many of the world’s great nations. Not to drag politics into couture, but one could also recall that Valentino’s owners are the royal family of Qatar, a state currently suffering from an economic boycot orchestrated by a headstrong Saudi Arabian prince, whom many people believe ordered the murder and slaughter of the single biggest critic of his regime, Jamal Khashoggi.
“Inclusivity, ultimately, is a creative as well as human act,” argued Piccioli in his program notes.
Which is also what made Piccioli’s bow so touching. He took his entire atelier – two score of petites mains – on a full tour of the rambling catwalk inside the mansion. To the biggest standing ovation we’ve seen in Paris for the past several years.
All to Aretha Franklin’s great anthem, “(You Make me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” in the one true fashion moment of the Paris season.
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