PARIS, France — It’s hardly a ‘breaking news’ moment, given that the fashion tomtoms have been throbbing for a while about Maria Grazia Chiuri’s imminent departure from Valentino for parts foreign. But today’s confirmation that she is moving on, leaving Pierpaolo Piccioli as sole creative director, clearly throws a different light on the couture collection the duo showed last night. As swansongs go, it was a surprisingly ponderous full stop to Chiuri’s 17 years with Valentino, soundtracked by Prokofiev’s stentorian strains.
Piccioli and she have boosted the house’s fortunes with collections of sheer, gossamer fantasias of prettiness, like the dresses worn by their gilded acolytes in the audience. But with their new designs, it felt a little like Lady Macbeth had gatecrashed the fairy circle. Appropriate, given that Shakespeare was a starting point. Chiuri and Piccioli claimed inspiration from the master playwright’s peerless ability to create richly multi-layered characters.
They called their collection “a portrait gallery” and what came down the catwalk was actually just like a room at the National Gallery stepping off the canvas: white Elizabethan ruffs on deep black velvet, page boys in doublet and (lace) hose, huntresses and highwaywomen. It also had a distinctly operatic tinge, which made sense with Chiuri and Piccioli’s recent triumph as designers for Sofia Coppola’s production of La Traviata in Rome.
But what it didn’t have was the exquisite lightness that the designers, working in tandem with the ateliers in Rome, have brought to Valentino. Yes, the craftsmanship was superb, from the simplest item — a beautifully articulated poplin blouse — to the Byzantine patchwork of a coat towards the end of the show, which was suitable for framing. But, where once there would have been delicacy, here there was severity. One of the theatre’s most famous Lady Macbeths was Judith Anderson, who found celluloid fame as the villainous Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. Long, governess-y black silk gowns had Danvers written all over them. They loaned a morbid caste to the show.
Immediately following the presentation, those with memories were invoking McQueen’s name. The comparison was telling. His approach to similar subject matter was ardent, obsessive, persuasive. Chiuri and Piccioli’s felt more academic, almost as though they were researching costumes for another opera.