VENICE — “Fashion is not art,” believes Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli. “Fashion always has a practical scope while art is an end in itself.”

While not swaying from this concept, art played an integral part in Piccioli’s Valentino Des Ateliers couture collection shown in Venice on Thursday, as 22 out of the 82 designs on the runway were created in an exchange with an eclectic and international group of 17 artists. And while the clothes may be conceived as functional, they were as dreamy as can be and basically works of art themselves.

Case in point, a painting by Andrea Respino inspired a stunning intarsia coat — almost trompe l’oeil, said Piccioli — made of 150 different swatches of fabrics, from satin to taffeta, laminated and sequined. One could catch glimpses of the painting on the front of the garment, while the back was conceived with the help of Respino, responding with his own creativity to the design.

Valentino Couture Fall 2021

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Another standout was a long, glittering sequined slipdress worn under a floor-length, taffeta bouillonné cape with a pattern reminiscent of poetic images of the moon reflected on a lake by Chinese art curator and photographer Rui Wu.

Employing Valentino’s signature red archival fabrics, a sleeveless gown was embellished with an allover pattern of hands “that seek intimacy at a time when you can’t really touch anything,” said Piccioli, referencing a work by artist Alessandro Teoldi.

Convinced that painting is to contemporary art what haute couture is to fashion, Piccioli worked mainly with painters and a dramatic white and red gown and cape reproduced by James “Jamie” Nares’ single brush strokes — a show stopper if ever there was one.

“Fashion and art are creative practices that respond to different purposes — one linked to the body and movement, the other completely free from constraints of sorts — which nevertheless find a conjunction in the atelier: the place of making, of thinking with the hands, of translating a desire, an idea, a sensation into a tangible object,” Piccioli explained.

They share a common intent to reflect a historical moment, a perspective, each through its own language, he continued. “I felt there was a lack of connection, of confrontation and I needed to create a factory of artists, a community with different points of view that would inspire one another. I did not want to stamp a painting on a T-shirt, as a museum memorabilia, but to reflect the spirit of the artist.”

Piccioli is aware viewers may miss all these layers and interpretations, actually enjoying “the intimacy of this knowledge. There can be a deeper reading of the artist or pure fashion, as fashion is in the creative process and not in the packaging. The art is integrated in the aesthetic and there is no story telling. Fashion must create beauty and arouse interest and curiosity. It can also be powerful, have a political language, and be a photography of the world. Often the world changes and fashion realizes it later, but I would like to drive change.”

Piccioli underscored Venice was a conscious choice and that he could not have shown this couture collection anywhere else, selecting the Gaggiandre location, part of the Arsenale that hosts the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions and the International Dance, Music and Theatre Festivals of La Biennale di Venezia — which Valentino is sponsoring.

“When I start a collection, I think of the final image,” he said, admitting it was “a challenge to insert an artistic dialogue in the show.”

Piccioli succeeded in presenting an equally powerful lineup in the rest of the collection, where the silhouette was either long and layered, or short and sculptural, with some echoes of his spring couture, minimalist designs.

Once again, he shunned gender identity and showed skirts over pants and looks on men that could easily have been worn by women, as in a combo of blouse, pants — with zippers running the length of the legs or on the ankles — and cape in sophisticated shades of geranium pinks. Indeed, perhaps inspired by the artists’ use of color, the palette was mouthwatering, with vivid pops of azure, red, mint and bottle green, fuchsia, mustard and purple — which contrasted with the required white dress code of guests.

Piccioli shied away from describing the cuts of the coats and shirts, but they were perfectly and architecturally executed.

The petites mains worked their wonder on a lime green bouffant gown with a drapery that is usually realized on chiffon but in this case was created on taffeta, marveled Piccioli himself.

The sun setting on the sea, singer and songwriter Cosima performing live and a striking group of grand ballgowns closing the show made for a theatrical experience and it’s safe to say nobody was missing being glued to a screen.

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