The Best of Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino in Vogue

Naomi Campbell in Valentino couture.Photographed by Ethan James Green, Vogue, November 2020

Of late, fashion’s cardiogram has featured dramatic peaks and valleys. This morning it was activated by the news that Pierpaolo Piccioli is leaving Valentino. The Roman joined the house in 1999 and designed accessories there through 2008 when, with Maria Grazia Chiuri, he became co-creative director; he has flown solo since 2016 when she joined Christian Dior.

It’s tempting to see Piccioli’s all-black fall 2024 ready-to-wear collection as a twin elegy, lamenting the state of the world and his own leave taking at Valentino, though that doesn’t sync with the designer’s belief that the color is actually lustrous. As he put it: “If it’s true that black soaks in all of the light, I imagine that this light at some point will come out of it.”

Radiance is what defined Piccioli’s Valentino from the start. His spring 2017 debut was illuminated with shades of butter yellow, ruby red, and a hot pink, that would be refined and edited into the sensation that was Valentino Pink PP, which debuted at the fall 2022 ready-to-wear show. This “pink-out” was built on two traditions set by Valentino Garavani: the proprietary color (Valentino Red) and the monochrome all-white collection he presented for the spring 1968 couture, which established his reputation in the wider world of fashion.

Beyond their optical brilliance, Piccioli’s designs are distinguished by a sort of luminance of purpose. He came to use fashion as a platform for creating the world he wants to see, one that is diverse, accepting, and collaborative. “For me, it’s about more than clothes,” Piccioli said at the time of his spring 2019 couture collection for Valentino, at which he recreated a famous 1948 Cecil Beaton photograph of Charles James dresses using only Black models.

The past coexists with the present in Rome, and Piccioli honored the house heritage at the same time that he asserted his own codes. The Roman Steps show for fall 2022 couture, for example, was adjacent to the house’s first location, and included a take on the embellished Fiesta dress presented at Garavani’s debut. The clothes, for men and women, had a modern elegance, and a sense of ease. Under his leadership, extreme fantasy (see the fall 2020 couture) coexisted with more down-to-earth options. Put another way, for every pair of headline-making couture jeans there existed many more quotidian, yet considered, options.

One of my favorite PP anecdotes is about his attire on day-one at Valentino, where the tanned and suited Mr. Garavani held sway. Piccioli, who came on as an accessories designer, opted for sneakers or flip-flops (depending on the telling). He recounts this as being a wrong move, but it seems to have set the stage for the deluxe high/low moment that was Frances McDormand wearing Valentino couture and custom Birkenstocks at the Met Gala. Piccioli, who grew up in a coastal town, was able to bring a relaxed air to the rigorous discipline. Imagining a brighter future, he approached the job with an easy, confident step and gathered a crowd as he progressed. Below, a collection of some of Piccioli’s brightest moments as they appeared on the glossy pages of Vogue.

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