Meeting with Pierpaolo Piccioli

Photo: Inez & Vinoodh, Courtesy of Valentino

On Monday night, at the British Fashion Awards 2022 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Pierpaolo Piccioli received the

prestigious Designer of the Year award (succeeding last year’s winner, Raf Simons at Calvin Klein). The Valentino

creative director learned the good news just before meeting Vogue, and was still reeling from the emotion. “Are

you sure I got the award, I’m not just nominated?” he asked. For those who have followed the designer’s evolution

since his duo work with Maria Grazia Chiuri (who was co-artistic director between 2022 and 2022, before taking the

helm at Dior), the news may not be so surprising. When Piccioli unveiled Valentino’s couture collection last spring,

he gave us a glimpse of something we badly needed, without even knowing it: a moment of grace, a wave of beauty,

pure and wonderful. Further proof that fashion often acts as a barometer of the collective mood. Looking back on

the events of the past year, Piccioli’s direction of the designs is not surprising: he offers us a momentary escape,

but also the comfort that despite all that is going on in the world, imagination and creativity can still flourish.

During the show, this creativity translated into a profusion of frills and botanical prints, spectacular rift eruptions

featuring color-block and monochrome. Philip Treacy’s hats – some feathered, some flowery in delightful hues – topped

off the silhouettes. Piccioli described the show as a “stream of consciousness,” and compared his moodboards and

fabric samples to Molly Bloom’s monologue in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Viewers were treated to a visual feast, while

diving right into the designer’s creative process. inDigital

Photo: Valentino spring-summer 2022 haute couture show

For Piccioli, his mission as a designer is to convey his vision of beauty, not his vision of the world.

“We all have our own way of reacting to the times we live in. For me, it was about going back to my roots

through couture,” he explains. Growing up in Nettuno, a small seaside town south of Rome, Piccioli discovered

fashion through magazines. And today, he often thinks back to those early, carefree years, when he gazed

in awe at Charles James dresses and models photographed by Richard Avedon and Deborah Turbeville. When he

arrived at Valentino in 1999, his first encounter with couture in real life was nothing like he had imagined.

“I had this idea of lightness and movement, but the dress I had seen in photos was made bulky by layers

and layers of tulle. The effort put into the construction of the garments was visible. In my designs, I

try to remove all that weight [and] I try to make fashion as I saw it through my eyes as a child. I want

to stay true to that imagination. Even his procession of all-black looks (led by Kristen McMenamy in a voluminous

taffeta dress) that opened his spring-summer 2022 ready-to-wear show – made of lace, leather, and wool crepe

– retained a certain effervescence, and was highlighted by a fresco by Piero della Francesca, a major source

of inspiration for the designer. At Valentino, the approach to proportion, texture, and color has become

increasingly experimental since Piccioli arrived. “When you work with someone else, your emotions become

thoughts; everything is more rational since you have to discuss, share your vision,” the designer explains

about his work with Maria Grazia Chiuri. “When you are alone, everything is different. You become aware

of who you are. Today, I don’t need to understand why I like something, intuition is enough.” He confesses

that he has to find the right balance between his own identity and that of the house; if one outweighs the

other, he says, it can’t work.

Between grace

Rex features

Photo: Valentino spring-summer 2022 show

This flexible approach was on display last month when Piccioli presented his pre-fall collection in Tokyo, for

which he aligned his personal ideas with the wabi-sabi philosophy. For the designer, this concept rooted in

the acceptance of ephemerality and imperfection is less rigid and more contemporary than Western culture. Silk,

tulle, and ruffles mixed together, and several layers of gold folds recalled kintsugi (the Japanese art of repairing

broken pottery with gold leaf to highlight cracks instead of hiding them). Nothing was left to chance, nothing

was forced. In this perfectly imperfect collection, one series of looks was dedicated to the house’s signature

color: Piccioli wanted to change people’s perception of red – a color that “sometimes evokes great power and

strength” – by making it “more romantic, more fragile, and more poetic.”

Photo: Frances McDormand, Pierpaolo Piccioli and Anne Hathaway at the Met Gala 2022

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