Valentino Garavani’s all-white couture collection in 1968 was such a rigorous antidote to the psychedelic mood of the moment that it instantly entered fashion legend. Pierpaolo Piccioli was thinking about a similar process of purification with the 66 looks for women and men he showed on Monday. “The white collection — the essence of Valentino — was the starting point for this collection,” he said. “No colours, just black and white. Imagine doing the white collection in black and taking it to the streets.” Piccioli decided that was an appropriately radical direction for radical times: a blank slate, a new beginning. “With everything being about the pandemic, it felt valuable to deliver a new aesthetic that embraces a new generation.”
As with the couture collection he showed a month ago, Piccioli embraced fluid identity as a cornerstone of this new aesthetic. The only distinction between some of the looks sported by his boys and girls (for young they were) was the footwear: stilettoes for her, boots for him, and a sharply tailored cape/jacket and wide-collared white poplin shirt over a net turtleneck for them both.
If the monochromatic mood was almost minimal, Piccioli was quick to emphasise the craftsmanship, the amount of surface detail. But the strongest impression was the abbreviation of the silhouettes, the stripping away of excess. His moodboards usually show us where his head is at, and this season, he was featuring work by Lucio Fontana, the Italian master of the slashed canvas, who once said his signature slits were about “opening up space, creating new dimensions.” There were slashes and perforations all over Piccioli’s looks. Punky, to fit with his radical inclination. But he saw them more as raw. And, wrapped up in a cape as so many of them were, they even took on a Renaissance tinge. Renaissance punk: that sounded awfully close to Piccioli’s dream of a new spirit of romanticism.
The invitation box (which is the way invitations show up in this socially distanced era) arrived with a selection of candies. Were we in for a sweet treat with the show, I wondered? No, Piccioli clarified. You’d might buy sweets when you went to the theatre, and it was a theatrical experience he intended for his virtual audience. He was even parked in a director’s chair for his Zoom conversations. Teatro Piccolo, the choice of venue, was another significant gesture on Piccioli’s part. It was established in 1947 by anti-fascist activists as a home for radical theatre in Milan. He described it as “a place which stood for freedom,” and managing to get it to open during the pandemic was so tough it was “almost a punk gesture.” The models entered the theatre from outside and walked across the stage as British singer Cosima performed a set of intense torch songs, including “Nothing Compares 2U.” Yes, it was romantic in a stark, shadowy way, gorgeous, even, in the funereal mousselines that closed the show. And, yes, it was a new vision for Valentino, maybe even “the picture of the future” that Piccioli was talking about. But hopefully there’ll be a little more colour and post-pandemic cheer as he fills the blank slate. The final tableau did, after all, have the rosy glow of a sunrise.