Strokes of Genius
Tatler Malaysia|September 2021
Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli has long been beloved for pushing fashion forward with his magical yet meaningful couture. This season, he transcends the craft with the help of 16 contemporary artists
Rosana Lai.

Don’t call Pierpaolo Piccioli an artist. He insists.

“It’s provocative to say this, I know, but fashion is not art to me,” the designer says in a hushed, thoughtful tone, his Rs curling through a thick Italian accent. “Fashion needs to work with the body, there is a practical purpose, but art is free from constraint.”

Piccioli is perched across from me on an ornate sofa, wearing his black hoodie-and-slacks uniform, square Raybans firmly planted on his nose as he swings a sneakered foot over his knee. He continues, “Both are languages with which you can express yourself and your values. Fashion is my language.” On a simmering July afternoon, we are at a preview in Paris, beneath the chandeliered halls of a grand salon in Place Vendôme, several gowns dotted around us, each almost camouflaged against a corresponding artwork. I imagine it is what the inside of Piccioli’s head might look like.

The pieces, from cashmere capes to majestic ballgowns, are part of his latest couture collection, Valentino Des Ateliers, for which he enlisted 16 contemporary artists from around the world with the help of curator Gianluigi Ricuperati to partake in an “exchange of ideas”; he sees the work as more than “just” a collaboration. “I didn’t want to do an ‘artsy’ collection; I wanted to do a collection that’s inspired by a conversation between humans, that’s about empathy, about connection—especially during a time last year where there was no connection—and about love,” he says.

If this all sounds a touch saccharine, know that Piccioli, who has made Valentino synonymous with unabashed romanticism, is sincere. Since becoming a creative director (for eight years from 2008 alongside Maria Grazia Chiuri, now artistic director of womenswear at Christian Dior, and solo since 2016), Piccioli’s ready-to-wear has had fans lusting over his indulgent designs—the Rockstud, a design he popularised on Valentino accessories or the menswear collection he produced with Undercover’s Jun Takahashi featuring pieces printed with lines of poetry come to mind. But couture is where Piccioli’s vision thrives unfettered. “To me, couture is a philosophy and approach about people, it’s not just about technique.” This is something reflected in every element of his work, even down to the appellation: as per a tradition Piccioli started, each couture look is named after the seamstress who made it.

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