In two weeks, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli will show their
Couture collection for Valentino. Today, they returned to Florence for the
second time to show their men's collection in a city they say is
especially hospitable to traditional menswear and the word most on their
lips was "couture."
Their ambition for Valentino menswear, the designers agreed, was to bring the workmanship of couture to the world of men's. "We believe that couture is a culture," Piccioli said, "a culture that you can translate to all categories, men's, too. It's more masculine in a way, this obsession about the detail inside." Last season, they mentioned couture, too, but while the Fall collection skewed sartorial, Spring was sporty. The duo played with iterations of the polo shirt, recreating it in mixed, fused fabrics (piqué and poplin), redressing it as a popover, and exaggerating its proportions to make it fuller and rounder. Not a single tie was seen on the runway, and the best suits came in Japanese denim. Every look was accessorized with sneakers, each bearing a tiny row of rubber studs, the kind that, in metal, have made their women's accessories such fetish objects. "I think you need fetish today," Piccioli said. "You need something you desire." It's easy to imagine these trainers fitting the bill, though Piccioli admitted his own desires ran more to the new, shrunken messenger bag of the season, just the size for an iPad. "The new size is iPad size," Chiuri added.
That, in a sentence, keys the importance of innovation to the designers. For all the talk of Couture, Chiuri and Piccioli are just as interested in developing new techniques and building upon existing ones: fusing materials, bonding seams, mixing fabrics. That innovation doesn't necessarily extend to the aesthetic. Their look tweaks tradition, but the clothes themselves remain staunchly wearable, and their message was edited almost to military strictness. (Maybe a touch too much so, though the designers mentioned their desire to cast a fresh eye on uniform dressing.) There were several versions of a flat-front, tapered chino, some with a multi-fabric stripe that recalled track pants and tuxedos both. The duo's take on the Teddy jacket brought several materials into the mix—mesh, cotton, nylon, and neoprene—but kept the shape recognizable. If there's an analogue to this collection, it may be Phoebe Philo's work for Celine: smart, inside-out upgrades to clothes that are more desirable than revolutionary.
All the camouflage notwithstanding (it's made here, for the record, by heat-bonding rather than printing), revolution's not the aim. Who needs it? Valentino is enjoying its own natty pax Romana. The audience left murmuring orders. Chalk it up to whatever you'd like: couture, innovation, uniform, fetish. It's hard to ask for better than that.