When is a skirt too short? That’s a question that should never be asked, according to Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.
His spring collection, presented at the Beaux-Arts school with a live performance by FKA Twigs, was in part a response to a wave of violence against women in Italy, which has fueled the sort of public debate that shifts the blame for attacks onto the victims.
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“It’s important for women to be free to express themselves through their body and not to be judged,” Piccioli said during a preview at the brand’s headquarters on Place Vendôme.
“There’s a perception about the idea of nudity or the exposure of the body. I like the idea of Eden before original sin. In a way, we add the cliché of sexiness, of seduction, around the body. I think there must be freedom for women to choose, always,” he continued.
His answer to those seeking to police women’s bodies? More skin. His models wore open-worked dresses over skirts as brief as a censor bar — nudity as a manifesto, if you will.
Three-dimensional renderings of doves, lilies or pomegranates, as finely wrought as plaster moldings, were pieced together in soft structures using a technique the designer dubbed “high relief,” borrowing a term from sculpture. “What you see as decoration becomes the construction itself,” he explained.
The technique was used on cutaway minidresses, vest tops, slips and barely-there bras. Sirens were chiseled on a raw linen cape, a reference to the fantastical figures in Renaissance frescoes. Never mind symbolism: the craftsmanship in this collection was couture-grade.
Even basics were given an elevated spin. Oversized T-shirts, crisp white cotton poplin suit jackets and blanket-like sweater dresses put the accent on comfort. Fluid T-shirt dresses, cut out at the midriff or slit to the thigh, occupied a middle ground. Again, it was about giving women options.
“For too many years, women have been seen as the ‘romantic’ one, the ‘sexy’ one, the ‘provocative’ one, the ‘clever’ one, and I think that a woman can have many facets,” Piccioli reasoned.
Coincidence or not, it was the first dedicated women’s show since Valentino decided to break away from the coed format, and the first since French luxury conglomerate Kering, a vocal supporter of women’s causes, bought a 30 percent stake in the brand with an option to acquire full ownership.
If it feels like a stretch to suggest that revealing clothing can advance the feminist cause, consider the way that Valentino Beauty brand ambassador Florence Pugh has used her appearances at the brand’s events to challenge the male gaze.
While she wore a pink suit with a bow-shaped bra at this show, her choice of sheer outfits in the past has unleashed a wave of criticism. “What’s been interesting to watch and witness is just how easy it is for men to totally destroy a woman’s body, publicly, proudly, for everyone to see,” she wrote on Instagram last year.
Piccioli said he had a similar conversation with Twigs, who performed an energetic routine with a troupe of dancers who generated sounds by digging into boxes filled with rocks, sand or peat. “She expresses that idea of an artistic sensibility by showing the body, using the body itself in her performance,” he noted.
The designer didn’t mention global warming, but as temperatures soared in the sun-filled venue, shedding a few layers suddenly felt very tempting.
Launch Gallery: Valentino RTW Spring 2024
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