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Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino, the discreet charm of revolution

His poetry adjusted the axis of an established fashion house from exclusive to inclusive. When his ready-to-wear comes to Paris, multiple forms of beauty join individual beauty on the catwalks showing his vision of an all-embracing present. He is also the author of a democratic haute couture extravaganza as a proposition of universal enjoyment, a symbol of emotional resonance. That’s why Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli has received the Designer of The Year award at the latest British Fashion Awards 2022, set up by the British Fashion Council. But what can this choice tell us about the current state of design? What is the secret of the Valentino revolution? And what can students learn from the fashion house? Last but not least, what connection does Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino image have with our contemporary world?

Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli at the finale of the maison's s-s 23 ready-to-wear fashion show during Paris Fashion Week

Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli at the finale of the maison's s-s 23 ready-to-wear fashion show during Paris Fashion Week

 

Not just numbers: Valentino’s growth under the creative helm of Pierpaolo Piccioli goes beyond sales increase

If they were just numbers, it would be too easy. Yet they are also numbers if it is true that e-commerce – which has been internalised – has gone up. In 2021, there was an increase in sales at constant exchange rates of 41% compared to 2020 and 3% compared to 2019. And sales reached EUR 1.231 billion, with a massive increase from accessories, which accounted for 66% of sales, followed by ready-to-wear with a 32% share and the other categories for the remaining 2%. It is also true that all creative and business efforts have been focused on one brand, as the production and sale of Red Valentino will stop with the Autumn-Winter 23/24 collection and fur production will only be a memory.

Looks from Pierpaolo Piccioli's spring-summer 2023 Unboxing Valentino collection

Looks from Pierpaolo Piccioli's spring-summer 2023 Unboxing Valentino collection

 

But what is the formula for Valentino’s success? What is behind today’s global boom of a first and foremost couture brand?

Competing with Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli were not only Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at the last British Fashion Awards 2022 in London, but also Jonathan Anderson and Bottega Veneta’s Matthieu Blazy: why did the sceptre go to Piccioli? I think it is a question of language and courage in identifying fashion as a political message. Pierpaolo Piccioli has been shifting what people think of a venerable brand as Valentino for some time now: he has been the brand’s creative director since 2008, alongside Maria Grazia Chiuri for eight years, now artistic director of womenswear at Dior, and alone since 2016. During this time, he has not hidden the power of vulnerability and the beauty of a poetic language made of tangible objects but surpasses them with their narrative power. Just think that he managed to make Valentino Rockstud shoes an icon within a brand whose sophistication would have loathed them just a few months earlier. But that’s not all. Piccioli has often humanised the Valentino haute couture shows by having the most nonchalant, to say the least, supercilious glitz climb up and down the stairs of a Parisian hôtel particulier: Valentino’s longtime couture venue, the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. When planning another Valentino haute couture show, the Roman designer chose the rhythm of Venetian water for his creations, not as a frame, but rather as a refracting mirror of timeless beauty, reflecting a time that knows how to make art.

Models with creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli at the end of the Valentino Unboxing s-s 23 fashion show

Models with creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli at the end of the Valentino Unboxing s-s 23 fashion show

 

When Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli started a fashion revolution in an understated, almost hushed, secret way

For the Valentino spring 2022 campaign, Pierpaolo Piccioli plunged Euphoria actress Zendaya into the most contemporary, urban and dusty hangars of Warner Brothers studios in Los Angeles. There, the two worked creatively to give new space and form to the enchantment of contemporary youth known to have all those capital letters that define the generation they belong to – Gen Y, Gen Zers… Pierpaolo Piccioli’s revolution is sophisticated and so discreet as to be enchanting but not overwhelming. That is the kind of revolution that beats in the chest but does not push violently, the one that unwinds the skein gently but does not break it. All this is possible because Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli creates fashion by focusing on the analogue, on contact, and the other person’s needs by including their differences. What he manages to “sell” is his ability to make the sublime human and relatable. This may be why he defines his fashion as a political message. And probably this is why he works on vulnerability with the same perseverance and dedication he uses when he addresses strength.

Looks from Pierpaolo Piccioli's spring-summer 2023 Unboxing Valentino collection

Looks from Pierpaolo Piccioli's spring-summer 2023 Unboxing Valentino collection

Blurring boundaries and fearlessly breaking convention is certainly the greatest lesson for us who teach and learn in a school.

 

 

Francesco Brunacci
Senior Lecturer, Firenze
School
FIRENZE
Course
Programme
postgraduate-Master's Degrees • Master's Courses