The pursuit of perfection is Valentino's current M.O. The show the label staged today at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild was gorgeous, full of exquisite clothes worn by boys with not a hair out of place. It snapped into focus ever more forcefully the emphasis Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli put on the idea of couture, for menswear as much as for women's. Men's couture has its own long history and tradition: It's bespoke, and its hometown is London. That city was the inspiration for their new collection, though its young-gun avatars were more Carnaby Street than Savile Row. There was a wash of Italian suaveness over the whole, too—"We're from Italy!" protested Piccioli—but the designers' mood boards made the cultural mash-up clear: Antonioni here, Mick Jagger in his early, snarling years there. Elsewhere were his fellow Angry Young standard-bearers of London's swinging sixties.
The sixties is a familiar well for designers to return to, but shock and awe, the designers said, wasn't the point. At least not shock. "We believe it's very important to give something that a man desires," Chiuri said, but that's only part of the story. Piccioli finished the thought. "You desire," he said, "what you already know. So we want to show what you already know in a different way, with different eyes. Our fashion is to make extraordinary what is ordinary." Thus their mission. There have been any number of collections with trim suits, trenches, and even Michael Caine glasses, but Valentino unsettles the settled notions. Take its Black Watch plaid. The designers start with blue wool, stitch in green, and then overprint black to give shadows and depth. Repeat with houndstooth and check. Old made new, awe delivered. (And for the multi-pocket flat clutches, safe to say no one in the sixties had those.)
The collective gasp of the audience confirmed a hit. That felt right, though the London inspiration might just as easily have invited a yelp. The threat of danger and spleen attended the Angry Young Men, who never worried about mussing their menswear. That's a school of thought it might be interesting to see explored. In the meantime, Valentino remains more Sunday morning than Saturday night.