“We wanted to show people Rome through our eyes. The layers and layers of history which can exist even in one place, where ancient temples lie beneath buildings which have been used for centuries, even till today,”
“We wanted to show people Rome through our eyes. The layers and layers of history which can exist even in one place, where ancient temples lie beneath buildings which have been used for centuries, even till today,” said Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. The symbolism of the Valentino couture show, staged in the open air on a balmy evening in Rome, was almost epic in its scale and depth of emotion. The girls emerged through the huge wooden doors of the sixteenth-century Palazzo Mignanelli, the place where the designers, and their seamstresses go to work every day. Their golden-haloed heads held high, they moved with the serenity and presence of all the beautiful young women who might have trodden the streets of this city through millennia: pagan handmaidens, Renaissance princesses, daughters of the modern-day nobility, living inheritance.
Static runway pictures don’t capture the panoramic impact of the scene, the vast wooden podium of the runway, the dozens of women who arrived to take their seats looking beautiful in the fragile lace full-length dresses, in many colors, which Chiuri and Piccioli have revived as the business backbone of the Italian house. What they saw, on the occasion of the opening of the new Valentino store, was a technically sensational, poetic collection, all of it eveningwear and mostly in black. It had solemnity and dignity—something almost ritualistic in the way the designers worked through the subject of thinking about their home city, and the house founded by Valentino Garavani, the retired maestro of couture who was there, watching from front row and center.
Each piece, whether sewn from intricate, featherweight lace and tulle, or cut with dramatic simplicity from flowing asymmetrical silk or velvet, walked on flat Roman sandals and came accessorized with gold jewelry; neckpieces, slim metal belts, and filigree diadems. Earlier in the day, the designers had treated the audience to a magical mystery tour of the city, showing them their inspirations: churches, palaces, a sixteenth-century library, a fencing school, the set department of the opera house, culminating in an exhibition in which Valentino’s archival work stood in conversation with their own.
Rather than laboriously hammering home the history, the new collection took flight with its references, weaving in shapes reminiscent of gladiatorial armor (an incredible gold leather jeweled dress, with a back laced-up fastening of a Roman sandal), or the robes of priests and cardinals from the Vatican City. The deep, oxblood red which came at the end was an homage both to Mr. Valentino’s famous red dresses, and an inspiration which reached back to an ancient Roman cult which involved the sacrifice of bulls.
There was a strong, sometimes erotic and almost sinister undertow to all this. “We also wanted to show the darkness we feel in this city,” said Piccioli. Stunning though it was as an achievement and a sensational fashion moment, he said the thing he and Chiuri are most proud of is the way they have been able to reach new customers, and what that means. “We feel a sense of social responsibility in this. We have been able to expand our ateliers, take on new people, and open a new school to make sure we have young people trained in all these skills we need.” He added that the average age of the couture customers who are now flocking to the house on the Piazza Mignanelli is 37. They are young. Even more of them will surely be magnetized by the extraordinary spectacle they saw tonight, a collection, which in its own way, is another landmark in the history of this eternal city.