Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have resuscitated the Valentino label by applying, as they say, "the culture of couture to all categories"—even T-shirts. That kind of juxtaposition is integral to the current incarnation of the brand's DNA. Riffing on the idea of opposites for pre-fall, they were thinking along both regal and subversive lines. Regal, as in all manner of capes—from a quilted puffer version with a fur collar (part of a new Sub-Zero Couture capsule) to slimmer styles in elaborate macramé. Subversion entered the picture via glossy patent leather in white, black, and red. Red was Mr. Valentino's color, of course, but here it shed most of its romantic associations. They name-checked Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton circa the seventies. This was a racy red, and there will be no missing the woman who wears their fire-engine trench.
In the end, though, that kind of flash was only a fraction of the story. Part of the appeal of couture-quality clothes are the hidden luxuries, and it doesn't get more subtly sensational than a crocodile coat bonded to cashmere, or a fur camouflaged with pelts sheared to different lengths. "We don't want to do generic pieces," Piccioli said. No chance of that. For their evening dresses, they focused mostly on softer colors like grayed-out florals and barely discernible pastels, along with a few reds. There were several lovely gowns, especially the hand-beaded red ones, but they seemed to be saving the wow factor for their real couture show in Paris next week.