A fashion show that was pretty much a work of art
By Vanessa Friedman
The Venice Biennale has long been a magnet for the fashion herd, a place to search for art and ideas as it once bought buttons and trims in the fashion districts of the world; to perhaps design the Next Big Art / Fashion collaboration, a mutually beneficial marketing and commerce arrangement that began to seem as mechanical as the Ford assembly line.
Last week, however, with a couture show at the Architecture Biennale, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli took the relationship to a whole new, more meaningful level.
Since around October 2020, he has been discussing with 17 contemporary artists – their work, of course, but above all life in general, the process, the emotion, what turns them on – thinking about how to integrate their common points in the fabric. Not by reproducing a painting or sketch line by line, like some sort of ball gown equivalent of the museum’s souvenir tote (many brands have been there, have done so), but by incorporating the essence of the thing so that it turns into a new form.
The result – shown at sunset under the brick arches of Gaggiandre, Venice’s former shipyard, with water splashing along the edges of the track and Cosima, the British singer playing live with just a piano – was an equally powerful argument for the interconnection of time, human connection, and creativity as anything fashion produced.
Coming a week after the last couture show in Paris, and almost a year after this collection was designed (A full year! It’s like a millennium in the age of fashion), it was definitely worth the wait.
The richness of Piccioli’s palette – as a designer he is the best colourist since Yves Saint Laurent – was fully on display; so was his disposable elegance, and his generosity. Not just at his workshop (his show notes the names of the people who sewed each garment) but at the bodies that will wear the clothes.
The way he can combine loose stone-colored khakis with a chartreuse tank top and matching leather opera gloves, then slip into a sky blue cashmere cape fully lined with gold sequins. Or place a micro LBD under a Philip Treacy’s white ostrich feather hat, resembling the offspring of a jellyfish and sea anemone, tentacles fluttering eerily in the wind atop a toned down figure.
Or throw a lilac cashmere scarf over a sparkling mint green t-shirt, tucked into grape pants (this as part of his men’s tailoring clothes) with Kermit the Frog gloves. It was a bit like tipping head first into a Caran d’Ache box. Nothing looked forced or uncomfortable, but it was dazzling at the same time.
In the middle of it all were clothes – “inspired by” is a worn-out phrase at this point; Let’s go with “galvanized by” – artists like Kerstin Brätsch, Luca Coser, Wu Rui and Francis Offman. So there was an opera cloak like crumpled paper in white and the blue-gray of storm clouds gathering on the horizon, worn with a pale blue jumpsuit of a dress; a ball gown composed of shadows and silhouettes of arms entwined in ruby and dried blood red.
A pull-on parka that looked like an abstract landscape consisted of 46 types of fabrics; another held 150. What looked like black brushstrokes on a papal red jacket were actually thread, each intricately embroidered to make it look like they had been erased in a second.
“I’m not trying to create a ‘lifestyle’,” Piccioli had said in her studio in Paris the week before the show, looking at one of the puffy taffeta dresses in pure, saturated tones that closed the collection. and referring to a term that has become an integral part of the fashion mantra. “It’s wanting the same car, going to the same hotel on vacation. I want to create a community, that is to say values and links.
And, perhaps, the future. Less “Death in Venice” and more like a rebirth.
(This article originally appeared in The New York Times.)
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