When I met Pierpaolo Piccioli in July, around his Autumn/Winter Valentino couture show, we wound up talking about minimalism. Minimalism chez Valentino is kind of a contradiction in terms: Valentino occupies a baroque palazzo where every ceiling is a frescoed mini-masterpiece, and Piccioli’s clothes aren’t known for being quiet or stripped back. He’s rather more likely to create a gargantuan gown of satsuma taffeta or leopard lamé, or a dress smothered with a few thousand hot magenta feathers. But Piccioli was talking about the minimalism of a look entirely embroidered with crystals and pearls, a sheath dress and matching boots, the model herself then smothered by Dame Pat McGrath in matching glitter. There was a minimalism, Piccioli reasoned, in the monochrome. I could see what he meant. Little did I know, he was hinting at what was to come for his Spring/Summer 2023 ready-to-wear collection.
Piccioli’s Valentino is interesting because of a process of what he calls ‘resignification’. Which is, taking emblems and ideas that we think are fixed – generally about Valentino, but they could be about anything, really – and giving them a new value or meaning. How about the fact that Valentino’s famous red, in Piccioli’s hands, can take on multiple hues, from near-pink to a deep beet burgundy? How about taking Valentino’s sweet, delicate roses and giving them a savage grace, a power and impact, an almost violent energy? And how about making minimalism as maximal as possible, smothering models in sequins and feathers and crystals but, somehow, not losing sight of the aim? Which is to reduce, to strip back and to simplify? You got that idea, somehow, from the Valentino Spring/Summer 2023 show.
‘Pureness' was the word Piccioli chose, and explored in a multitude of ways. There’s the pureness of a white shirt, shown in a triptych of looks and then exaggerated, smothered with ostrich feathers (for guys) or extended into gowns of red or black silk faille, shrugged off the neck and sweeping the floor. He also stripped back the notion of the gown itself, using the kind of flesh-colour mesh materials normally utilised to construct the corseted interiors lining couture dresses, here exposed, the intimate underpinnings celebrated. Stripping back almost to bare flesh, but not quite. It lightened the shapes, and the spiring – fabric flowed easily. And the colours, of course, were glorious – the Valentino Pink PP of last season was seen only in the audience, but this time there were glistening poison greens, cerulean, lilac and vibrant yellow, alongside plenty of Valentino red, of course. And taking the idea of loving the skin you’re in to a new level, the Valentino ‘V’ logo was tattooed on models’ exposed skin, fusing women with their dresses. The overriding focus became on a silhouette, on a boxing figure, enigmatic and fascinating.
There’s something clever there, in this idea of stripping away to the minimal yet creating a maximal impact. ‘Unboxing’ was the phrase Piccioli used – which implies a removal of constraints and boundaries, and thinking outside your comfort zone. Minimalism – even in this rather maximalist form – is well outside the box for Valentino, and for Piccioli, you could argue. And after a glorious haute couture show of extravagance, exuberance and plenty of embroidery on the Spanish Steps of Rome, a new slant on simplicity was precisely the palette cleanser ordered. “It is subtraction, not absence,” Piccioli said. Or, to parrot a well-worn phrase, maybe less really can be more.