Why 2018 Belongs to Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli

Pin It
Valentino A/W18 Haute Couture Pierpaolo Piccioli Kaia Gerber
Valentino A/W18 Haute CoutureCourtesy of Valentino

At last night’s Fashion Awards, the artistic director of Valentino received the BFC Designer of the Year Award. Here, Hannah Tindle explores why this recognition is justly deserved

A fashion collection that induces mass sobbing, loud whoops of joy and a standing ovation from every single member of its usually stoic audience is a rare thing. It sounds, almost, like a scene from Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter, the 1994 satirical comedy which poked fun the industry’s love of melodrama. But this is precisely what occurred at Valentino’s A/W18 haute couture show, which took place in Paris’s Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild in July this year. And it was far from a fictional moment, with Mr. Valentino himself on the front row shedding a tear of appreciation for the work of his protégé, Pierpaolo Piccioli.

The 50-year-old Italy-born Piccioli cut his teeth at Fendi in the early 1990s, designing accessories alongside his creative partner Maria Grazia Chiuri. The pair later moved on to work at Valentino in 1999, taking the helm as co-creative directors nine years later. Grazia Chiuri decamped to Dior in 2016, and since then Piccioli has flown solo at the fashion house. Last night, he was justly named Designer of The Year at The Fashion Awards 2018. Previous recipients have included John Galliano, Vivienne WestwoodAlexander McQueen and Phoebe Philo, and Piccioli certainly stands with them as one of the most accomplished designers of the 21st century.

His brilliance lies in the technically competent, breathtaking yet unpretentious work he has produced – the past 11 months in particular. It began in January, with the presentation of Valentino’s S/S18 haute couture collection, which wowed with oversized ostrich feather hats and silhouettes in utility neutrals and jewel tones that cleverly modernised codes of old-school grandeur. It was haute couture alright, but maximalism tailored for women of today.

A/W18 ready-to-wear was another triumph; more explosions of colour, fringed leather gowns and knitted dresses rendered fluid as silk, often layered over slouchy trousers. Then came the tear-streaked haute couture A/W18 show, an exercise in mind-bendingly complex construction, gargantuan proportions replete with equally enormous bouffants created by hairstylist Guido Palau. His recent offering for S/S19 ready-to-wear was perhaps the most intelligent to date, with Kristen McMenamy opening the show in a ballooning, black, off-the-shoulder gown made from taffeta but with all the lightness of cotton.

Pierpaolo Piccioli also works closely with an iconic team of creatives, including Palau, make-up artist Pat McGrath and Joe McKenna, who is responsible for the styling of Valentino’s shows and was a friend and long-time collaborator of the late Azzedine Alaïa. Much like M. Alaïa, Piccioli is also renowned for his warmth towards those he works with, including the hundreds of women who sit tirelessly behind the scenes sewing in the ateliers, pinning and making toiles, keeping the storied craft of couture alive in an age of fast fashion. The designer is sure to thank the Valentino seamstresses on his Instagram account, too, mentioning each by name alongside a group snapshot

The models cast in Valentino shows have also spoken of the kindness that can be found when working for the house. Fashion often has a reputation as exploitative and callous towards young women, something that Piccioli’s tenure seeks to remedy (and not just through his inclusive designs). “I always enjoy walking for Valentino, that’s my favourite show,” Akiima, who is now one of Valentino’s muses, told AnOther. “Pierpaolo is such a lovely man. I love being part of the Valentino family – the way they work together is so inspiring. Also, the clothes are absolutely beautiful.”

Joy exudes from every stitch and seam of Piccioli’s work, too. For this alone, it’s no wonder that what is he producing at Valentino has been embraced with such ardency in 2018, a year that has often been defined by a violent and hate-filled global political climate. Where opportunities for mental respite from the dire state of the world are increasingly few and far between, a Valentino show can offer just that, if only for a brief second in time. 

In April, critic Robin Givhan wrote on fashion’s power to provide a unique form of escapism in The Washington Post: “Designers weave narratives that are meant to take you outside of your reality,” she said. “But unlike a film or a painting that can only linger in your memory, you can take fashion with you: to the office, to dinner, on vacation, to the gym. You can wrap yourself in it, and it can be protective armour, an alluring force, a weapon or a grown-up version of a binky.” Whilst we can’t see ourselves sporting a Pierpaolo Piccioli creation on a treadmill any time soon, one thing is certain: 2018 was his year in fashion, and he injected more than a touch of happiness into ours.