Look at Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, so ascetic and spare with their dark clothes and modest demeanor, and you can only wonder at the intensity of the clothes they create. So, obviously, did the scribe who penned their show notes, as lost in the search for words to define the collection as everyone else was after the fact. That's because Chiuri and Piccioli are like the solitary writer who spins a magic kingdom out of his imagination. "Regal beauty," Piccioli said by way of explanation. "Sensual but severe." And if that had a Game of Thrones tang, well, that fitted with a Couture collection that felt like a world we were allowed to enter without fully understanding what it was we were seeing.
The mood board in their studio was dense with nineteenth century altered states: the symbolists, the decadents, a romantic spirit that combined ecstatic release and exhausted lassitude. Valentino is a house that traditionally reads red, but Chiuri and Piccioli dialed down to blue, introspection and reflection versus the extrovert essence of house habit. It made for a quietly spectacular opening in crepes, chiffons, and cashmeres with a lush sobriety. That same idea of modest luxury carried over into a full-length lace and chiffon floral dress, and a coat that was encrusted with cashmere appliqués of flowers and leaves in a pattern that was inspired by William Morris' Tree of Life. It was so ludicrously vivid that you could imagine the old boy himself would have felt one step closer to God when he looked at it.
If there have been times in Chiuri and Piccioli's tenure at Valentino when they seemed a little stultified by respectful politeness, today felt like a once-and-for-all cutting loose. The way they introduced brocade, for instance, an oldish idea, but here zapped with yellow. Then there was the blue, of course, antithesis of all the house traditionally holds dear, even if the red did reinsert itself toward the end of the show (which only created a pleasurable tension for Spring). One of the most memorable outfits from this Couture moment in Paris will surely be the evening dress in navy plissé with the black shadow falling diagonally across it. Stark lushness—why does that notion sound so right with Couture in such transition?