Mystery surrounds the designer. He’s almost always photographed wearing a suit and a cool expression on his face. The fashion world had only seen him as half of a successful creative duo. After all, his creative co-authorship with Maria Grazia Chiuri spanned almost three decades since Fendi in 1989; they joined Valentino together in 1999. No one had any indication of what was done by whom during the partnership.
But after the success of Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2017 ready-to-wear collection, his first as solo Creative Director, it’s clear that his work stands on its own merit. It’s not a revolution, but it unfolds an invigorating new chapter. While there are still very few interviews on Piccioli, much less about his creative process, he openly takes us through the process of putting the collection together and shares his vision for the brand moving forward.
What was the starting point of the Spring/Summer 2017 collection?
I took inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. It represents the important change between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
How did looking at Bosch lead to the work of British designer Zandra Rhodes?
It came as a natural liaison because she also represents change: that of the Punk movement in the late 1970s to the 1980s. Rhodes was originally a textile designer and turned to fashion when she realized her creations became too bold. She comes from the “New Wave” of British designers and was a prolific contributor to spreading the movement across the Atlantic. She was also the last punk that was closely looking at the 1930s for inspiration.
Which specific elements from Rhodes’ work were translated into the collection?
The silhouettes were adapted from her designs in the 70’s, which include gilded caftan dresses and incredibly voluminous sleeves and trains, cut as a ¾ of a circle. We used this line for embroidered and printed dresses. The embroidery, in particular, was inspired by her pattern designs — not designed by her.
What do you find most intriguing of the punk movement?
Its compulsive necessity of freedom, its subversive attitude versus the status-quo. Similarly, I want to continue my work without giving myself limits.
How do the two distinct historical inspirations, in this case the renaissance and punk movements, relate to your vision of women today?
For me, everything is about being emotional. The only way to trace a renaissance painting to punk or to Zandra Rhodes is to be emotional — it’s the only way to connect the path. I don’t think it is important how a woman appears because how she feels is more important. If she feels beautiful, everyone will look at her in a different way.
Do you have a muse or several muses in mind when designing?
I don’t think of a specific woman — it’s more of a spirit. I always try to appeal to as many people as possible because if you think of just one, you are denying so many others. What’s clear is that I want to give women elegance, purity and dignity.
The narrative of the collection was synthesized into symbols. Can you explain its special meanings, for example the daggers and hearts?
The name of this motif is Loveblade and it was either printed or embroidered on different fabrics and accessories. It’s the soul of the collection’s initial theme, marked by plenty of black, pink and red to soften the punk effect.
Which aspect of the creative process is vital to creating details as such?
To work so closely with the artisans and Italian expertise has been fundamental because savoir-faire is the base of the designer profession, from which each creative process begins. And as a result of being curious about the world, I also find other sources of inspirations, in particular: culture, music (rock and opera music especially), books, cinema and travel.
What would you say is the key reason behind your stellar success at Valentino?
The heritage of the maison. Here, I have discovered that no innovation can exist without a profound knowledge of tradition. I know that the sense of limit springs from this awareness but in return it gives you the freedom to think. It has allowed me to understand the rules in order to break and rewrite them when I’m working on a new collection.
Being the solo Creative Director, what’s the message that you would like the fashion world to receive?
My job is to take the spirit of fashion into the light, to suggest new perspectives in order for you to see something differently. Fashion today is about creating items and mixing languages to deliver people what didn’t know they wanted before they see it, and simply desire it when they do.
What’s the future like for Valentino and for yourself? What are your immediate goals for the brand?
The job is never complete. But I’d like to focus on the pre-collections because they are an equally important narrative moment. The same goes for capsule collections and our boutiques.