Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli makes a strong case for what haute couture should be in 2019 — brilliantly colourful, effortlessly maximalist, and an optimistic celebration of individuality. This sartorial thesis on modern elegance found its source in a 1948 Cecil Beaton photograph of models dressed in ballgowns. It was an image that became an archetype of old-world couture and one that prompted Piccioli to ask: “What if Cecil Beaton’s famous photograph of Charles James dresses could be with black women?”
Piccioli’s message of inclusivity began last season and continued on this Autumn/Winter 2019 couture runway with a diverse cast of models. “The only way to make couture alive today is to embrace different women’s identities and cultures,” he said during a studio preview. As such, black women opened and closed the show and represented the majority of the cast. Piccioli added to the diversity by celebrating women of all ages, featuring Lauren Hutton, Cecilia Chancellor, Georgina Grenville and Hannelore Knuts, all aged between early-40s to mid-70s, on the same runway as Kaia Gerber and Gigi Hadid.
As for the collection itself, Piccioli elaborated on colour theory and floral motifs with surprising combinations of material and texture. The show opened with an exuberant yellow gown — an homage to the sunflower — with a beaded torso and tiers of Komondor wool fringe. The colour palette flourished with sensational hues of purple, green, red, and blue, often expressed as elaborate landscapes and patterns, and silhouettes of extravagant volume were resplendent with ruffles, bows, and feathers. One sleeveless ballerina pink gown was made of small squares individually tied together by bows, almost like haute couture armour, that took over 2,000 hours to create. “It’s not engineered by computer,” Piccioli said, “you can feel the humanity in it.”
Perhaps the most modern move of all came after the 71-look finale when Piccioli brought out the entire Valentino atelier staff on the runway for the bow. It was a simple but poignant gesture that demonstrated that what’s truly modern today is acknowledging the people behind the work.
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