PARIS, France — The Valentino show tonight took its audience on a journey. The very idea has been given a severe taint of trite by reality TV. Isn’t everyone on a “journey” now? Still, it really was the best way to describe a presentation that began with closed-down black tailoring and ended in a glittering cosmos. The presentation was a hymn to the open mind and the free spirit. The moodboard, always the most illuminating entry point for the mindset of designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, ranged wantonly across a flotilla of references: a young Pasolini, a fiercely sexy Kerouac, ascetic William Burroughs (rejoining the conversation after his guest appearance on Giorgio Armani’s moodboard on Tuesday), Edward Curtis’s Indian warriors, a pensive John Lennon, an equally moody Steven Morrissey. (It was Morrissey’s How Soon is Now that was woven through the soundtrack.)
After the show, Piccioli attempted to order all those personalities: the monochrome of post-war existentialism, the quest for identity, the flagrant flowering of idealistic individualism. What it all boiled down to was that people in suits took acid and blew their minds. Piccioli and Chiuri’s collection was an epic — albeit probably unwitting — reflection of that. The hippie-er it got, the more fabulous it was.
But such fabulousness had to have a counterpoint. Blacker-than-black cashmere provided it in the ascetic looks that opened the show. But the models wore flesh-toned socks with their studded-sole shoes. They were clearly destined for damnation. A creeping occultism slowly infected the tailoring, even to strapped yokes and camel needle-punched with black. Then came hopsack linens, printed with the message “Love All, Trust a Few,” which sounded a tad on the survivalist side. After that, a string of gloriously tribal-inflected moments: star appliques, feather embroidery, Navajo suedes, an impressive tie-dyed cape, beaded and fringed denims… quite how two Depeche Mode fans from Rome, Italy could find their way so confidently into a Pacific Northwest hippie fever dream boggled and thrilled the mind. The clothes were artfully beautiful in the detail of their decoration. Then came the end of the journey: a starburst over an alien landscape, rendered on a jean jacket. As the cosmic traveller would say: “Like, wow.”
Under Chiuri and Piccioli, the reconceptualised Valentino’s influence on fashion has been major. The lessons are obvious to any who would follow them. Nirvana is deep inside. Craft can help you get there. Otherwise, you simply need to look around you. It’s all there. And it was all here, on the Valentino catwalk.