It's difficult not to feel a level of emotion when Pierpaolo Piccioli descended down Rome's infamous Spanish Steps hand-in-hand with his team of seamstresses and tailors in staff jackets, to a live soundtrack by Labyrinth, for the finale of the Valentino Haute Couture Fall 22 show. Even from behind a screen, you could sense the energy. A standing ovation from the House's guests, plus onlookers from the streets and windows of nearby apartment buildings clapped as Piccioli and his team weaved through models – who were assembled on the steps in their 100 looks – and made their way down to Valentino HQ at Piazza Mignanelli. People hugged, they high-fived, a model was even noticed wiping happy tears as she stood amongst her peers while Piccioli sprinted into the arms of Valentino co-founder, Giancarlo Giammetti for a triumphant embrace.
For Piccioli, and for just about anyone who watched it, this was more than a regular couture show. He is a designer who has a long-standing roster of memorable couture moments, and in the past few seasons, with confidence and resources, has set out to mark such moments without hesitation.
Rome is where Valentino Garavani's journey began at the top of the Spanish steps, where his first atelier was located, in Via Gregoriana. "The Atelier, the perpetual genesis, the coordinates in which all our journeys converge, a tree with roots as deep as the underground of this city, where the seamstresses and tailors who understand my gestures as they understood those of Mr Valentino, interweave the plot of each dress with their lives." Piccioli notes in a press release. It is on these travertine steps and its surrounds that so much of the House's history is steeped, and for Piccioli, it was the only place that made sense to mark a full circle.
Ironically entitled The Beginning, Piccioli's intention with the show was to explore "how much of him [Valentino] is in me and how much I returned." In this sense, beyond the obvious technical perfection that the collection achieved, both Mr. Valentino and Piccioli were everywhere. This was most evident in silhouettes that had been plucked from the archive, married with Piccioli's recognisable painterly palette. The opening look was a vibrant Valentino-red cape laden with oversized 3D taffeta roses that harked back to the famous Fiesta Dress of Mr. Valentino's earliest collection. While the closing looks brought the two together, with a play on Valentino's Art Deco black-and-white theme, wherein a monochrome geometric cape was paired with a feathered headdress nodding to Piccioli's past couture collections.
There was a surplus of roses secured to shoulders and rimming necklines, while plumes of ostrich feathers lined hems and made up the volume of entire skirts. There were gathered chiffon capes that looked light as air, and structured pleating to offer Valentino's signature elegance. Dresses with puffed sleeves were accompanied with contrasting bows at the waist which trailed down skirts like water. Everywhere the eye was drawn, in each different colour story, a new feeling was evoked. Joy, nostalgia, excitement – it was mirrored in the casting.
Last season, Piccioli made headlines with the casting for his Couture collection when he introduced the idea of varied body types and ages in the show. Something that, while in 2022 would seem a no-brainer, but for the rigid traditions of couture, marked a moment of change for a sector of the industry that is deeply rooted in its principles. This season was no different, but it wasn't just his diverse casting that made it feel like a turning of a new leaf for the brand and an industry that can often be hinged on elitism. Piccioli actively broke down the barriers of the closed world of Couture by reportedly inviting 120 of Rome's fashion students to watch the show in the audience, welcoming a new guard of future talent into the throes of the event instead of leaving them on the sidelines as onlookers. It is within this act that makes it clear that Piccioli is not in this game for optics, but because he deeply believes in the work that he is doing.
"Fashion that was one confined into a perimeter made of measures, dictates, is now free." He says in the press release. "The power of beauty makes it possible to imagine a future where people, the intrinsic value of our humanity, are at the centre of everything. Beauty is resilience."
Watch the Valentino Haute Couture Fall 22 show, below.