Just under a year ago, designers took to spring ready-to-wear fashion week with a resounding sense of doom. The impending pandemic was mere weeks away and, despite premonitions, would devastate the world more than anyone could have predicted. Black was the overarching order, forming a sort of sartorial pre-funeral. A styling that proved forebodingly astute for the coming year. Twelve months on, however, while the world still reels from a year of such turbulence, we seem to be surging beyond the time of anticipatory dystopia to arrive at a place of stoic benevolence. This is the “post” time.
So, this year, Paris couture week comes at a surprisingly hopeful moment in history. While the midnight clock that turned 2020 into 2021 may have enticed more slate-cleaning than could have been sensibly expected, the symbolic nature of such new-leaf turning has never been more prominent.
Today at Valentino, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli both honored and reset the template for what couture might mean today. While seasons past have seen him present gloriously theatrical traditions, this year he revealed a palette of pretty futurism. Long gone was all the somber darkness, revealing a welcome gelateria of fresh romance. At the spectacularly decadent Galleria Colonna in Rome, models walked a digital-only show. The lack of audience was, of course, a result of COVID restrictions but, serendipitously, made way for a heightened dramatic landscape.
And the collection was highly wearable. A less fanciful, less fussy display of separates that bore the hangover of our 12 months on the couch. Juxtaposed against the baroque architecture, minimalist cuts in coats and shirts and even long shorts formed looks for a fundamental, daily clothing. Realism that was adequately spruced by sequins, lame and some very lavish gold platform boots. Models tottered expertly in the Gaga-esque sky-scrapers too – a suitable choice of footwear given the singer has become the label’s latest fragrance ambassador. The shoes, both spectacular and horrifying, filled this writer with a maniacal fascination and more than a few flashbacks to Alexander McQueen’s ‘armadillo’ ankle-breakers. Thankfully, no one was harmed in the walking of this show.
Each look was splendid, tastefully adept for an era craving creativity while realistically lacking in the need for overt glamour. Trench coats were given gusto via dramatic volume and marked splits while turtlenecks and pleated trousers drew as much emphasis as the gold sequinned bodysuits and princess-cut scuba gowns. Despite these bouts of contemporary glamour, the takeaways were, to be fairly basic, quite sporty. Vests and pullovers that, yes, were crafted from the most delectable of materials, made for a kind of re-imagined capsule wardrobe. Nonetheless, they kept in good stead beside their more native couture counterparts.
The Age of Casual Couture is here, and designers like Piccioli are choosing fight over flight. The audience (and buyers) of the future have been raised on street style, so waging a merger between what could become a relic genre and what provides desirable modern relevance is imperative.
Of course, in essence, couture fashion week is unique not only in its sense of rule-breaking opulence, but for its spotlight on ateliers and craftsmen. Behind the scenes (and seams), there are countless skilled men and women who dedicate their lives to the detail that makes high fashion collections so spectacular. And Piccioli’s collection this year made this tribute its major focus.
He was fast to express that today’s presentation was neither about providing a narrative, nor about obtuse meaning. “I wanted to work on surfaces, not in a decorative sense, but workmanship which becomes the surface itself.” And, to add to his fluid approach, the Roman-born creative assured that this collection – named Temporal for its attachment to tangibility and moments-in-time – was not to be labored by labels. When asked about his particular cape design he responded, “I don’t want to call it that. It’s not a caftan, or a poncho. It’s a shape.” Non-binary in the essence of clothing as well as his casting of men in a Valentino couture show for the first time.
Executing an escape from the dire circumstances of 2020 was reason enough to expect a revelation from our favorite design houses this year. Its burgeoning is a sense of relief. It’s the happiness that follows times of despair when even the smallest (or tallest) things can provide a feeling of restoration.