Five Things to Know About Valentino’s Boundary-Breaking Couture Show

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Valentino Haute Couture S/S19 Pierpaolo Naomi Campbell
Valentino Haute Couture S/S19Courtesy of Valentino

“The vocabulary, not the language, of couture changes,” said Pierpaolo Piccioli of a masterful collection which reimagined haute couture for women of colour

1. There were florals for spring

Amid vast displays of flowers in Paris’ Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild – and in front of an audience that included Céline Dion, Courtney Love and Monsieur Valentino himself – Pierpaolo Piccioli’s collection this evening was a haute couture garden in full bloom. Duchesse satin was twisted to resemble flowers which looped over model Adut Akech’s head like a hood; various floral designs – gauzy watercolour roses, daisies and poppies – were printed onto impossibly lightweight chiffon; while intricate blossom embellishment stretched across ever-more vast gowns (and even down some very haute couture pairs of tights). “Petals, corollas, crowns, inflorescences bloom and spread everywhere, touching the eyes,” read the notes.

2. The colour palette was breathtaking

Well known is Piccioli’s mastery of colour – here, he demonstrated that fact to exhilarating effect. There were rich shades of pink – raspberry, cerise and coral, across moire silk and taffeta – swathes of yellow, purple, green and, of course, Valentino red, in the form of an expansive layered gown, covered in plumes of feathers. But it was perhaps the absence of colour which provided the show’s most arresting moment – a sheer black gown with grand taffeta ruffles, worn by none other than Naomi Campbell to close the show. It was a final look that elicited a wave of applause from attendees – not least from Dion, who could be seen wiping away a tear.

3. Piccioli said it was haute couture reimagined for women of colour

“The vocabulary, not the language, of couture changes,” said Piccioli, who noted that the collection began by reimagining the tropes of couture for women of colour. He thought about how different colours would look on the skin from the inside out, questioning the “nude” lining traditionally inserted into haute couture gowns which has previously been made for white skin. “Imagine the most famous picture of couture,” he said. “Of all those women in Charles James dresses shot by Cecil Beaton in 1948, and then replacing them with different faces.” Accordingly, the casting was the most diverse of the week – the final Beaton-inspired tableau, staged at the end of the catwalk, was a powerful expression of just that: eight of the 11 models were women of colour, lead by an empress-like Campbell.

4. The lashes were made of feathers

Pat McGrath extended the sumptuous plumes – that so often have formed billowing gowns at Valentino – into the make-up looks, framing eyes with 1960s-esque lashes crafted from individual feathers. Each shade of feather was dyed to match the garment that the model was wearing: for Lineisy Montero, cerise; Fran Summers and Natalia Vodianova, seafoam green; and for Vittoria Ceretti, inky black.

5. Pierpaolo Piccioli and Raf Simons shared a moment backstage

After receiving yet another standing ovation from attendees for another masterful collection, Pierpaolo Piccioli was greeted backstage by Raf Simons, who congratulated the designer on the show. It was a display of revenance from designer to designer, the latter of whom is well aware of what it takes to shift the strict boundaries of couture, after an acclaimed three-and-a-half-year tenure at Christian Dior.