PARIS, France — Junya Watanabe learned the other day that referencing Africa can open a can of worms — post-colonial cultural appropriation, or something like that. The collection Valentino showed on Tuesday was also inspired by Africa. “But we're not delivering a postcard,” insisted Pierpaolo Piccioli. “It's layered with our culture. We need to create a new balance between tribal cultures and our own.”
That need is raw necessity. Populations are on the move. Mass migrations are clearly going to be one of the social determinants of the 21st century. What Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri chose to do with their beautifully tempered collection was to remind us that the dialogue has existed for years on an aesthetic level. “’One world’ doesn’t means digital,” Picciolo clarified. “It means to understand people.”
The human touch. A millisecond in the Valentino atelier is enough to acquaint you with the notion. So many hands making so many exquisite things. The work on Tuesday’s show might have taken Africa — and China and Japan — as a starting point, but it refined tribal tropes with the atelier’s expertise. The patterns of scarification on sheer evening dresses, the tiers of quills creating furious movement on a short skirt, the tie-dyed parka over a fringed, beaded skirt were fine examples of a coming together of inspiration and execution.
Under Chiuri and Piccioli, Valentino has, at times, been a little hermetic, like the most gorgeous secret society in the world. That element persisted in their new collection. There were still enough of those long, slightly monastic dresses. But now they came beaded, or fringed with raffia, or trimmed with braid. They had been opened up to that world Piccioli was speaking about. So Lexi Bolling was wearing flip flops with her long black dress, which defused its signature elongated strictness.
Ironically, the most explicit expressions of the theme were the most incongruous. We scarcely needed a burst of the theme from Out of Africa to soundtrack prints of elephants rampant or leopards reclining. But Alessandrio Gaggio’s white terracotta jewellery was stunning (run, don’t walk, for the rhino pendant). And ultimately, inspiration aside, the collection was a new challenge — new materials, new decorative elements — for Valentino’s artisans. They rose to it magnificently.