PARIS, France — A fashion show exists in the never-to-be-repeated moment. Do it again and it will never be exactly the same. Like any live performance. But there’s something about ballet in particular which makes it a perfect analogy for Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli’s work at Valentino: all that obsessive, hard work yielding effects of supreme lightness.
No wonder dance has been their main inspiration of late. For couture, it was Isadora Duncan and the modernists of the early 20th century. For Tuesday’s ready-to-wear, it was the contemporary avant-garde.
It was a shock to see a version of the “punk ballerina” Karole Armitage in her tutu and combat boots moving amongst the ethereal beauties who more usually throng the Valentino catwalk. But the spirit of Armitage brought a new toughness, initially at least, to the looks that Chiuri and Piccioli showed.
The austerity of long military coats covering rehearsal clothes or tulle dresses, all in shades of black and navy, and paired with those boots, was stark and striking, even more so when flared balletic shapes appeared armoured with metal.
In a preview, the designers talked about the necessity of combatting fear in the world today. Maybe that sparked the militant mood, although there was an unspoken suggestion that it was really beauty that they were proposing as a counterbalance. It certainly felt that way given their own work's ability to stir emotion and raise spirits.
“Dance speaks about music and freedom,” said Chiuri. And passion, and movement too. Tulle swirled with feather embroidery (swans, perhaps?) and a little flared dress in sequins as navy as the night sky patched with silver stars looked like chapters in a dancer’s story.
Supple velvet dresses were another stand-out. As the show moved into more familiar passages — the delicate, flesh-toned gowns, often with extraordinary, unplaceable embellishments, which are a signature of Chiuri and Piccioli’s Valentino — there was always a feel for the body sensually moving beneath the clothes.
The soundtrack today was a John Cage piano piece. “Listen to the sound around you,” Chiuri quoted him. “Music is the sound around you.” And, she added, beauty was all around too. “You just have to capture it.” And corral it — on a Valentino catwalk.