“It was an exquisite piece of opera,” director Baz Luhrmann declared after Valentino’s haute couture show at the Château de Chantilly, the most eagerly awaited event of Paris Couture Week.
Indeed, the evening had it all: a cinematic setting, high fashion and a star-studded audience.
After a two-hour bus ride through rush-hour traffic, guests emerged into the fairy-tale setting of the Renaissance castle surrounded by geometric gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. Models walked past a giant equestrian statue and descended the sweeping outdoor stairs, circling a fountain in their rainbow finery.
Florence Pugh, her hair in a pink buzz cut, wore a sheer lilac chiffon that she swished for photographers to catch the golden evening light. Donatella Versace, poured into a knee-length white bustier dress, stood to applaud Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, who took his bow surrounded by dozens of members of his atelier, all dressed in white coats.
“I want to stand for values and that’s why I feel that this was important to resignify, in a way, the idea of the castle,” the designer said before the event, explaining that his aim was to strip the historic location of its elitist connotations and make it simply a backdrop to celebrate “equality and freedom in a place where rules were important.”
Make no mistake: this was fashion of the most rarefied order. Only the truly privileged can afford the made-to-measure creations that represent the pinnacle of the high fashion pyramid.
Yet Piccioli was intent on breathing fresh life into a tradition that can feel dangerously disconnected, especially at a time when France is reeling from nationwide riots triggered by the police killing of a teenager.
He opened not with a princess gown with a 12-foot train, but with Kaia Gerber dressed in a crisp white shirt and jeans — though he gave the world’s most democratic garment a couture makeover by embroidering it with thousands of tiny pearls in 80 shades of blue.
And he counterbalanced the opulence of surface effects, like the 3D metallic flowers on a powdery blue coat paired with a chartreuse slipdress, with minimalist construction. Fabric was sliced and draped on the body, with a focus on plunging necklines and thigh-high slits.
“I wanted to do a collection which is more spontaneous,” Piccioli explained in a preview at the Valentino salon on Place Vendôme. “I wanted to freeze those moments of lightness and movement in construction and clothes that are looking easy, simple.”
It was a deceptive simplicity at best. A wine-colored velvet column dress was set off by a graphic hooded cape in Valentino red, to spectacular effect, while Mariacarla Boscono’s plain electric blue evening gown was topped with a sweeping cape in a cascade of silver sequins.
Some of the gowns were nothing short of regal: a tent dress in a graphic ermine motif sprouted plumes of cut black feathers, while a gold bouclé coat, worn by one of several male models, was fit for a king. Piccioli delights in what he calls “impossible challenges,” like individually stripping the white feathers tufted on 160 meters of white organza ruffles to make them as light as air.
As unattainable as that might seem, he’s steered the brand away from the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” image cultivated by its founder, Valentino Garavani, with gender-fluid collections that celebrate an ideal of community.
That’s why he never considered canceling the show, despite the turn in current events.
“I like that in France there’s a sort of awareness of what’s happening, that people fight and protest over what is not right, but even for all the people that worked in the atelier for months, it’s important to continue to do our job,” he explained.
“What I’m doing is, of course, witnessing my times through fashion,” he continued. “I want to get humanity into this place.”
As his smiling team lapped up the crowd’s applause, it was clear that the invisible hands behind this dream production were the real stars of the show.