PARIS, France — If ever you wanted a rationale for the existence of haute couture, you should spend time with Pierpaolo Piccioli. The designer quoted Shakespeare — “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” — when he was talking about his new collection for Valentino. The character who spoke those words was Prospero, a magician. It was scarcely a leap of the imagination to cast Piccioli as a wizard who weaves his spell with fabric. He also quoted Flaubert: “The purpose of art is to make dreams.” Piccioli’s own faith in dreams as avenues to the heart of soul is ardent. And in the timelessness of dreams, he also finds the soul of couture. “I don’t want to create the shape of the moment,” he said during a preview.
“I didn’t want you to feel the effort,” said this Prospero of haute couture. “That’s the only way to feel the magic.”
Although he may have done just that with the graceful, classical lines of his gowns. Piccioli grounded his collection in Greek mythology, naming the dresses for mythic beings. Athena was a double-faced coat in ivory cashmere with tone-on-tone embroidery that included things drawn from the symbology of dreams. Icaro featured wings of pink beading, Eros was a spectacular red. And a dress composed of fine braids of chiffon and tulle in 15 shades of yellow was named for Apollo the sun god.
There was the exquisite delicacy you expect from the Valentino ateliers — one particularly gorgeous example was a dress in feather-light brocade embroidered with the flowers from a painting by Odilon Redon, the Symbolist — but this time there was something less fragile about Piccioli’s woman. The embroidery on a dress named for Leda shaded from dark to light in a way that subliminally echoed the violence of her story. Prometheo was licked with abstract flames. Another dress, plissé chiffon with an intarsia of chiffon and velvet, looked like surging waves.
There was strength, even something monumental, in the grace of that silhouette, and the precision of the pleating that was the collection’s leitmotif. Hair and makeup were minimal, the shoes were sandals, the only accessory was a drop earring. It was as though Piccioli had purged all extraneous detail, so the focus was purely on the dresses with their extraordinary work. “I didn’t want you to feel the effort,” said this Prospero of haute couture. “That’s the only way to feel the magic.”