As far as the pantheon of fashion events go, a couture show by Maison Valentino is fairly unparalleled—so even when the brand puts on a show that is ‘paired back’, you know it’s still going to be special. Take Pierpaolo Piccioli’s latest outing, for example. Focusing on a minimal palette of blacks, whites, and primary block colours—and sticking to an array of classic silhouettes like strapless mini dresses, oversized cocoon coats, and sharp suiting—the ‘Anatomy of Couture’ spring summer ’22 collection, which debuted at the Place Vendôme in Paris overnight, was a masterclass in refined Parisian style, and an ode to the diverse beauty of the female form.
“Driven by the urgency of rethinking the rituals and processes of Couture in order to create a canon that reflects the richness and diversity of the contemporary world and promoting an idea of beauty that is not absolute, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli imagined this Valentino ‘Anatomy of Couture’ collection not on one single and idealized house model, but on a variety of women with different body frames and ages,” read the collection’s show notes. To promote this agenda, Piccioli cast a diverse array of models, with 56-year-old supermodel Kristen McMenamy opening proceedings in a slick LBD, followed by fellow veterans Mariacarla Boscono, Lara Stone, and Marie Sophie Wilson. But it wasn’t just about age diversity—Piccioli debuted couture looks on a vast selection of body shapes, a powerful and poignant reminder that couture is for everyone, not simply the super thin and ‘sample sized’. “The body modifies with age. They’re still as beautiful but the shape is different. I wanted to capture the beauty of how the body modifies,” Piccioli said in a post-show interview.
Viewed through this lens, the pieces carried even more power. An off-the-shoulder draped ivory dress felt like the embodiment of sex appeal, a sequin-embellished long sleeve gown—a longtime mainstay of the Piccioli-for-Valentino eveningwear cannon—felt refreshingly modernised when cut for the body of a fuller-sized model. Elsewhere, the collection saw couture-level details applied to classic ready-to-wear staples. Slouchy suiting was dressed up with crystal-embellished shirts or an exceptionally fluid approach to tailoring. Oversized coats were affixed with hand-stitched floral adornments made of hundreds of tiny sequins and crystals. Evening gowns were made in delicate organza and silk and then affixed with thousands of hand-dyed feathers.
It’s always easy to imagine Valentino’s haute couture pieces on a coterie of Hollywood It-girls (Zendaya, Gemma Chan and Lizzo are among the brand’s red carpet fans) but this collection felt—dare we say it?—more relatable than ever before. Granted, the world of haute couture is, by its very nature, exclusive and unattainable. But Piccioli, always endeavouring to push the fashion conversation forward, presented a vision of exclusivity that wasn’t homogenous. For too long the rarified world of Parisian ateliers (the collection was presented to a limited selection of 65 guests) has only catered to a single vision of womanhood: young, thin, tall, and white. With ‘Anatomy of Couture’, Valentino pushed haute couture into the diverse, inclusive world the rest of the fashion industry has been exploring and celebrating for years. This, plus the remarkably beautiful attention-to-detail Pierpaolo puts into his clothes, made this collection a memorable moment on the haute couture calendar.