It only sounds like an irony that the designers who hammer on about their men's world being inspired and informed by the world of couture should also have designed what empirical evidence suggests is currently fashion's most sought-after sneaker. Their prescription for the Val man is a well-finessed mix of high and low. Many claim similar ideals, but few have gone as far as to gild the humble Havaiana with a thong of crocodile, as they did for their latest trick, which will sell in the neighborhood of 600 euros when it reaches stores.
That's "couture as culture," the organizing principle of Valentino menswear under Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri. It led them into realms where chinos come in chiné, printed with toile de jouy or embossed with a camouflage that conceals little flowers. In the higher echelons of womenswear, the designers use double-faced cashmere; here, a hooded jacket was double cotton.
They started low, with the idea to create uniforms: their mood board was tiled with school uniforms, army uniforms, workers' uniforms—standard issue. Then they brought it high. The entire opening segment of the show was denim and chambray, but cut, sewn, and bonded into paneled suits and coats. The show wended its way into double-jersey plain white tees, polos, windbreakers, and a new five-pocket jean, more defiantly casual than Fall's natty suit parade.
"We started with the idea of uniform to give freedom to people," the designers said backstage. "Our proposition of beauty for men is to be free to do your own choices." Thirty-odd years ago, Katharine Hamnett made the T-shirt her soapbox and implored would-be world-changers to "Choose Life." Now from the other end of the high-low spectrum, one of the haute-est houses on Place Vendôme is using the same medium to say, Choose tees. In its own polished (and, admittedly, business-savvy) way, that's a rebellion, too. And for years before their ascent to the top spots at the label, Piccioli and Chiuri labored as workers in its mine. So revolution continues. It is impeccably turned out.