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11-05-2011
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Mr. Magic
 
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Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli for Valentino
I noticed in every Valentino thread nowadays there's always be a love/hate relationship with these two. I'll open up the discussion with this Interview article.

Interview May 2011
Valentino: State of Grace
By Giancarlo Giammetti
Photography Mikael Jansson



Quote:
Since taking the reins two and a half years ago as creative directors at Valentino,designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli have faced numerous challenges—not the least of which has involved building upon the enormous legacy of the legendary Valentino Garavani, who retired from the house that bears his name in January 2008. Mr. Valentino may have left his business, but he didn’t retreat from the fashion world and certainly not from his very active social life. Today Valentino’s image continues to loom large, both figuratively and literally, over the fashion empire that he and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, built together over the span of nearly five decades.

Chiuri and Piccioli, who had previously served as accessories designers under Valentino for more than a decade, were appointed in 2008 following the brief run of Alessandra Facchinetti, who took over after Valentino’s retirement and promptly moved to etch out a new, very different image for the Valentino woman, but lasted just two seasons at the helm. In stepping in after Facchinetti’s departure, Chiuri and Piccioli were thrust into the position of having to determine the future of a brand at across roads. The journey has not been without some bumps along the way: a debut collection that some deemed too reverently old-school Valentino; another, an Avatar-inspired collection that others deemed not Valentino enough; and their ongoing struggle to carve out their own path as a design team—and working to reconcile that vision with the history of Valentino—in a very public way.

Recently, though, Chiuri and Piccioli have started to hit their stride. Their Fall 2011 collection, presented this past March in Paris, offered clear evidence of why they’ve quietly captured the hearts of Young Hollywood’s hippest girls (among them, this month’s cover girl, Michelle Williams, who wore Valentino to the Golden Globes), while creating a new language of grace and fragility in fashion—one that contains a delicate balance of romantic prettiness and edginess that has gently seduced women back into kitten heels, longer lengths, sheer layers, lace, ruffles, and bows—and a lightness of being that is quickly becoming the signature for the Valentino girl of the future.

The day after the show, Chiuri and Piccioli visited Giammetti at Valentino’s castle, Chateau de Wideville, in Davron, a half hour outside of Paris, to discuss the burdens of stepping into the shoes of their former boss, the Last Emperor, and how they think they’ve found a way to the future by looking into the past. Since taking the reins two and a half years ago as creative directors at Valentino, designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli have faced numerous challenges—not the least of which has involved building upon the enormous legacy of the legendary Valentino Garavani, who retired from the house that bears his name in January 2008. Mr. Valentino may have left his business, but he didn’t retreat from the fashion world and certainly not from his very active social life. Today Valentino’s image continues to loom large, both figuratively and literally, over the fashion empire that he and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, built together over the span of nearly five decades.

Chiuri and Piccioli, who had previously served as accessories designers under Valentino for more than a decade, were appointed in 2008 following the brief run of Alessandra Facchinetti, who took over after Valentino’s retirement and promptly moved to etch out a new, very different image for the Valentino woman, but lasted just two seasons at the helm. In stepping in after Facchinetti’s departure, Chiuri and Piccioli were thrust into the position of having to determine the future of a brand at a crossroads. The journey has not been without some bumps along the way: a debut collection that some deemed too reverently old-school Valentino; another, an Avatar-inspired collection that others deemed not Valentino enough; and their ongoing struggle to carve out their own path as a design team—and working to reconcile that vision with the history of Valentino—in a very public way.
interviewmagazine

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11-05-2011
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.... (cont'd)
Quote:
Recently, though, Chiuri and Piccioli have started to hit their stride. Their Fall 2011 collection, presented this past March in Paris, offered clear evidence of why they’ve quietly captured the hearts of Young Hollywood’s hippest girls (among them, this month’s cover girl, Michelle Williams, who wore Valentino to the Golden Globes), while creating a new language of grace and fragility in fashion—one that contains a delicate balance of romantic prettiness and edginess that has gently seduced women back into kitten heels, longer lengths, sheer layers, lace, ruffles, and bows—and a lightness of being that is quickly becoming the signature for the Valentino girl of the future.

The day after the show, Chiuri and Piccioli visited Giammetti at Valentino’s castle, Chateau de Wideville, in Davron, a half hour outside of Paris, to discuss the burdens of stepping into the shoes of their former boss, the Last Emperor, and how they think they’ve found a way to the future by looking into the past.

GIANCARLO GIAMMETTI: So here we are, 12 years after we first met. If I remember correctly, we first met in a café on Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina [in Rome]. You could say it was love at first sight because you both know I’ve always had great respect for you and, above all, I personally really like you. But thinking back to that day in the café, could you have ever imagined that one day you would be running a company like Valentino?

MARIA GRAZIA CHIURI: No! Absolutely not. It was unthinkable.

PIER PAOLO PICCIOLI: It wasn’t even a dream, in the sense that we were already delighted with our situation. I was working in a company for a brand that I liked, with Mr. Valentino, who was one of the best couturiers. It was already such an honor to design accessories for him.

GIAMMETTI: When did you realize, Maybe I could do that?

CHIURI: Frankly, when they offered us the job two and a half years ago. I was very scared, but not of the work—meaning, designing the collections. Personally what most concerned me was having to cope with the visibility. That really frightened me because everyone underestimated Valentino’s poise and ability to keep his cool.

PICCIOLI: It all happened very quickly. I had told my wife about it that day. When I received confirmation that evening, I was in Paris and I had to call home and also tell my mother. Who knows what she would have thought if she saw my picture in the papers the next day? When I told my mother that Alessandra [Facchinetti] was leaving and that they offered us the creative directorship position, my mother said, “You didn’t accept it, did you? Because if you do, you won’t see your children anymore.” I come from a family that isn’t ambitious and where other things are considered more important. But, of course, this was too great an opportunity, and I couldn’t say no.

CHIURI: Anyway, this job has many different aspects. It’s not just about designing the collection, but a global vision—you need to oversee communication and advertising and you have to manage your image and that of the company. Knowing how to juggle different jobs at the same time is what is most difficult.

GIAMMETTI: Valentino and I were perfect for all these jobs. But what I find interesting is that you didn’t want to copy us.

PICCIOLI: That would have been a hopeless task!

CHIURI: Maybe you don’t realize this because you established Valentino and were the owners for many years, but from the first moment we joined the company, we were at the service of the brand. We were not the brand, which is an anomalous situation in the fashion
industry and very egocentric.

PICCIOLI: There are also two of us. There were two of you, but in some way there was just Valentino, and you worked to keep him happy and you handled all the problems.

GIAMMETTI: Well, I also did some things on my own! I wasn’t just his super-assistant. [laughs]

PICCIOLI: That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that he was free to design the collection and not worry about advertising, the corporate vision.

GIAMMETTI: Let’s return for a moment to what you said about being at the service of the brand and not working for yourselves. The day after your show in Paris, there was an article by Ms. Suzy Menkes, who I greatly admire but who must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed when she wrote it, because she said that the new collection lacks surprise. She said it was too safe and too close to the brand. Now, many of the journalists who write these things are the same people who complained when [John] Galliano’s or [Alexander] McQueen’s collections weren’t commercial enough. These fashion journalists are never satisfied. So how do you avoid being influenced by them?

PICCIOLI: You do analyze what you do and try to understand how others see you, but you do it from the right perspective and distance. We really admire Suzy Menkes because she always has an interesting point of view, and from her point of view, I don’t think what she said about us was so terrible. Today we believe that fashion needs consistency, so it wasn’t the right time for us to do a wild and crazy collection.

GIAMMETTI: Perhaps I’m slightly more skeptical and cynical. Unfortunately, the press—like many other sectors—wields such power today that if people aren’t strong enough, they tend to let themselves be influenced too much. I was able to stop Valentino from reading the newspapers and only tell him what they wrote. Perhaps Valentino was even more sensitive than you, but he was also more reactive than you, because he would have told those journalists to go to hell and would have banned them—as I did many times.
interviewmagazine

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11-05-2011
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.... (cont'd)

Quote:
CHIURI: I have to say, with this [most recent] collection, the idea from the very beginning was not to do “editorial” things just for the sake of it. Not clothes that were a photo, but clothes. However, at the same time, we wanted classic fashion—meaning, when a customer enters the store, she finds a coat or dress that is made so well that it takes her back to what we consider fashion in the most traditional sense of the word. Because in recent years, the image of fashion has prevailed over traditional fashion, meaning sartorial detailing and workmanship. But fashion designing means creating something using a special technique that might not emerge in a photo, but when you look at it up close, you see that it’s stylish. That’s a cultural problem. Clearly we live in a time where image is more important than content.

PICCIOLI: I think it’s much easier to make a splash on the runway than to design collections that are valid on the runway but also in the stores. Designing a collection is not just producing clothes to satisfy your ego. The great designers—Valentino, [Yves] Saint Laurent—always thought of the women who wore their clothes. Fashion has created several disciples who have confused—

CHIURI: Their intent: to sell clothes for women.

PICCIOLI: It’s as if fashion looks at the women who wear it as less valid. Well, if I want to do something artistic, then I’ll make an art installation.

GIAMMETTI: What about the runway show? What good is a fashion show today?

PICCIOLI: A fashion show is good if the clothes last for more than six months, because if they’re boring or forgetful or crazy, then they’ll never hit the stores.

GIAMMETTI: Again, I’m more skeptical. Today, in this confusion where the Internet reigns, we saw your collection not the day after, but three hours after it appeared on the catwalk. Does the desire that fashion creates really last six months until the clothes are in stores? Does it last four months even? There is such a saturation of these things that I wonder if Tom Ford isn’t right not to do runway shows and to show his clothes in the magazines, because that’s what people want and where they remember them.

CHIURI: Well, he certainly found an innovative way to present his collection. But I think the real problem is that there is a saturation of brands that have no reason to exist. There are so many brands during Fashion Week that are clearly uninteresting.

PICCIOLI: But what Tom Ford is doing is also a form of packaging. It’s not just the fashion show—it’s a negation of the system used to communicate with the system. It’s another way to present your work.

GIAMMETTI: He’s a new phenomenon. He sells himself, and people buy things because he tells them to.

PICCIOLI: That’s packaging, though.

CHIURI: But I think he has built an image that is very close to what you did for Mr. Valentino. He has become the brand.

PICCIOLI: It is different because Tom Ford is the founder of his brand. His image and lifestyle coincide with the clothes he presents. Our fashion shows—and those of other brands in general—have to express something else. I think that what’s most interesting about Valentino, but also more subtle, is that it’s about the spirit of a certain type of woman. If there is something most significant about Valentino, it’s that women feel beautiful when they’re wearing Valentino. Beauty is at the core of his work—it’s not just an element. Therefore, capturing that spirit is much more subtle and profound a job.

GIAMMETTI: But it’s difficult for the person who takes his place to capture that.

PICCIOLI: It is difficult—and you can’t do it in just one season.

GIAMMETTI: What I found in the new collection was that I recognized each outfit not because it was a copy, but because it revealed the world of Valentino. Then there were some details that were much closer to the originals. I don’t think many people understand these things. They don’t say, “They were inspired by Valentino of the ’60s or of the ’70s or by Jackie Kennedy.” Even though Jackie Kennedy’s famous bridal dress was there twice, no one even mentioned that topic.

CHIURI: I’m sorry to have to say this, but I think that people don’t know much about the history of fashion.

PICCIOLI: As we were putting together the collection, we actually had a board with Jackie Kennedy, Patti Smith, Charlotte Rampling, and Marisa Berenson. What we liked was looking back at the past to create a collection that did not refer to a precise woman, dress, or collection, but instead, a precise spirit. That’s what we wanted. But conveying that spirit is often difficult because people don’t understand it. When you’re talking about beauty in the ’60s and looking at old photos . . . Marisa Berenson in that white outfit wasn’t a typical beauty for the time, but her aesthetic beauty was ahead of the times. Obviously, to capture the spirit of Valentino and update the concept of beauty, you have to look ahead and seek beauty in the individuality of a certain type of woman. Valentino’s spirit of the ’60s meant one thing, in the ’70s it meant something else, and today it may mean something different too.
interviewmagazine

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11-05-2011
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.... (last part)
Quote:
GIAMMETTI: By which you mean . . .

PICCIOLI: Florence [Welch, of the band Florence and the Machine] on the red carpet was beautiful, according to today’s standards. Anne Hathaway is definitely gorgeous, but she isn’t an update.

CHIURI: For us, the Oscars were a summary of our perspective. Anne Hathaway was wearing a vintage Valentino, and Florence was wearing our couture dress. Both are gorgeous, modern women.

PICCIOLI: And both were equally valid.

GIAMMETTI: There was the collection you did that everybody thought was not very interesting because it seemed too much like a photocopy of Valentino. It was a couture collection [Spring 2009]. I was there with Valentino. When I came out after the show, I was a bit disappointed because I said it looked like Valentino, but not even a fresh version. I don’t know if you agree. Then there was the second collection that you did after that. Once again the press was very tough on you. You came out immediately afterward with a collection [Spring 2010] inspired by Avatar [2009], which was a completely different world from the previous one. But I really felt that both collections were not what I was expecting to see. How do you consider those two collections now?

CHIURI: I was very happy about that in the first collection. I think the first collection, in some way, expressed our love for the Valentino maison. Everybody said it was old-style Valentino, but I don’t think it was that—I think it was more in the image of Valentino.

GIAMMETTI: You told me that it was more a problem of editing the collection. The same clothes are worn today but the style is better.

CHIURI: Probably, but I honestly think that the dresses are not really old-style Valentino. I think there were beautiful things: the style, models, and ambiance were like old-style Valentino. But I also think that if we used the same dress now, nobody would say that.

PICCIOLI: At that moment, with that first collection, we were focused on designing clothes. We weren’t doing the job of creative directors yet. The collection featured some beautiful clothes, but the woman we presented on the runway was not our vision of the Valentino woman—she was the woman of Mr. Valentino himself. Of course, we don’t deny that we came after Alessandra Facchinetti, not immediately after Mr. Valentino. When Alessandra came in, she changed the vision of the Valentino woman, so at that moment, we felt we really needed to bring back the past of Mr. Valentino in order to move forward. We needed to reestablish something. It was a kind of starting point. I don’t think the clothes were so important, although some of them were beautiful.

GIAMMETTI: Why, then, did you completely forget the Valentino woman in the third collection?

PICCIOLI: I think the Avatar one was . . . Well, as you said, you love your children even if they are wrong. I think you also love your father, but sometimes you have to rebel before you grow up.

GIAMMETTI: What did that moment mean?

PICCIOLI: I think it was a moment in which we had to change. First, you have to go very close, and then you can go very far.

CHIURI: I’ll be honest: We were wrong. The accessories were wrong. The makeup was wrong. Sometimes we can be wrong.

GIAMMETTI: From my experience working with both of you, sometimes I clashed with two different people. Pier Paolo is more adventurous in what he wants to say and present. Maria Grazia, you are more matter-of-fact. Sometimes the two of you don’t agree with each other. But in this conversation, I think you both agree in all your answers. I haven’t heard a single different answer. Have you both calmed down a bit? Are you two more in sync now?

CHIURI: No, I wouldn’t say that. In some cases our differences have actually become accentuated. However, I think my practicality offsets his futuristic approach. I think if you take the best of both, then something good can come out of it.

GIAMMETTI: Can you do that without bloodshed?

CHIURI: We’re not violent and I hate arguing, so it wouldn’t come to that. But it’s still difficult.

PICCIOLI: It isn’t easy. However, at this point in time I think the future lies in the past, so in this moment—

CHIURI: We agree!

Giancarlo Giammetti is the honorary president of the House of Valentino. Together with Valentino Garavani, they founded the Valentino fashion house and he remained Valentino’s business partner for 48 years.
interviewmagazine

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13-05-2011
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Valentino: State of Grace


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06-07-2011
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vvshu

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19-08-2011
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(via blueorchid)

Vanity Fair September 2011

"Great Inspirations"
Photographer: Normal Jean Roy
Stylist: Jessica Diehl



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05-12-2011
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Quote:
Tucked away on Rome's Via Dei Condotti, stands the grand Palazzo Mignanelli - also known as the Palazzo di Valentino, the headquarters of the famous fashion brand. Walking through the couture ateliers within, I can't help feeling a twinge of recognition. For these are the rooms, full of white coated seamstresses working away at long tables, that were featured in Valentino: The Last Emperor, the 2008 documentary film about the legendary former designer of the house, Valentino Garavani, now 79.

Couturier Garavani - who rose to fame in the 60s thanks to patrons like Jackie Kennedy - retired from his own house that year and announced Alessandra Facchinetti (previously of Gucci) as his successor. She lasted two seasons, but didn't take the house in the direction it was hoped, and, in 2009, was replaced by former accessories designers Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri.

The design duo are based in a wood panelled office at the heart of the historical Palazzo Mignanelli, their sleek white iMacs sitting on polished antique furniture. They are a garrulous pair, finishing each other's sentences, clearly immensely comfortable in each other's company. Whereas Garavani comported himself like a minor European royal, with a retinue of pugs, palatial villas, vast yachts and a world class art collection, these designers are casual and humble - and show no nerves at their task in hand.

"We knew we were filling big shoes. We were proud, but had a sense of responsibility," says Piccioli, seeming relaxed about their transition from accessory designers of ten years standing to creative directors. "It was a very good opportunity," shrugs Chiuri pragmatically.

Subsequently Valentino himself has given them his blessing. "He came to our last pret-a-porter show and he said, 'I'll tell you what you learnt from me. You've learned to make women beautiful and modern'. That's a great compliment from Mr Valentino," Piccioli recently said.

Their design nous has injected a contemporary spirit into what was a largely red carpet orientated brand. For AW2011, their collection moved towards daywear and was notable for their use of studding, mixtures of fabric-of -the-moment lace with leather and contrasts between delicate sheer textures with chunky opaques.

"We think it's very important for us to address woman who don't just work the red carpet," muses Chiuri. "It's not just about one moment in a woman's life, it's about many moments in a woman's life," adds Piccioli.

And yet, of course, the red carpet is still crucial to them in terms of publicity and showcasing their designs. I wonder if the whole Lady Gaga phenomenon made them feel under pressure to come up with more extreme designs for the red carpet, as say Armani uncharacteristically did? Chiuri points out that they have dressed Gaga twice, in Valentino couture. However, they did not adapt their lace and ruffles aesthetic for her - instead, her extreme hair and make up radicalised some quite traditionally romantic Valentino pieces.

"We don't feel under any pressure to become more extreme," continues Chiuri, "We are really lucky because we have many younger celebrities like Keira Knightly or Florence Welch or Carey Mulligan, that [wear our clothes]." "Often they want to be beautiful but not in a classic way," says Piccioli, "they want to be beautiful and individual."

This beauty and individuality is the spirit that suffuses the house's new floral fragrance - Valentina. The scent - a glorious conflation of Calabrian bergamot, white Alba truffle, jasmine, Amalfi orange blossom, tuberose, wild strawberries, cedar and amber - is warm, inviting and sensual.

"A lot of our ingredients are from Italy," explains one half of the "nose team", Olivier Cresp. "Alberto (Morillas the other nose) [thought of] the idea of [using] the white truffle, it's strange combined with the bergamot from Calabria." To Cresp, the white truffle's luxurious and decadent smell epitomises the modern women the company wishes to attract.

After two years development, Valentina the scent is as romantic and modern as the clothes Chiuri and Piccioli are creating. There is a rare delicacy to this house's creations, whether they be wrought from natural essences or cloth.
telegraph.co.uk

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Tomorrow in Florence, Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli debut their Fall ‘12 menswear collection as the invited guests of Pitti Uomo. The occasion marks the first runway show for the men’s collections, which the designers took over several season ago and have been quietly showing by appointment in their Place Vendome showroom—where it has been a quiet highlight of the Paris collections—ever since. In advance of tomorrow’s show, Chiuri and Piccioli spoke to Style.com about their couture sensibility, the idea of individual luxury, and their quest for the perfect piece. They’ve also shared two sketches of pieces that will hit the catwalk tomorrow; check back for the full looks, as well as Tim Blanks’ review from Pitti.
—Matthew Schneier

How do you approach designing menswear differently from designing womenswear? How do you see the Valentino man in relation to the Valentino woman?
Menswear in our vision is very close to the idea of personal and private luxury such as with the haute couture. It is a different result, of course, but the approach is quite similar… Volume and proportions are contemporary but with an echo of memory of sartorial and couture culture, silhouettes are cutting edge and sharp, constructions are very precise, maintaining lightness. [The Valentino man and the Valentino woman] share the same culture of couture and same spirit of effortless elegance.

How did you begin designing this season: Were there specific inspirations or ideas in mind, and how do these compare to what you’ve done in seasons past?
The world of couture. La sala Bianca. Antonioni and Pasolini. Mastroianni and Roman style. In the other collection, we were concentrated on translating the culture of couture in sportswear and modern wardrobe for contemporary men. In this collection, we aim to define our men with a more cinematographic attitude.

How did you research this collection? Does it relate to Valentino’s archival menswear, or is it more of a break with what’s come before?
This collection is close to the values of beauty and luxury of the brand, but our man is definitely far from what [he] was before. Beauty is individual and luxury is understated. You need a workmanship culture to buy a couture piece as you would need it to buy a sartorial jacket with the kind of innovation that takes place when tradition meets technology.

You’ve been showing your men’s collection in the showroom for the past several seasons. What do you have planned for your first presentation? Will it be a static presentation or a runway show? How are you working to incorporate Florence into the presentation?
A runway show, but with the intimate feeling of a couture show. Digital screens will give a new perspective and balance to the frescoes of the baroque rooms of Palazzo Corsini.

What do you think is the ideal outfit for a man? Do you feel that the ideal men’s outfit has changed over the years?
The perfect suit. The perfect shirt. The perfect tie. The perfect shoes. The perfect outerwear. The perfect denim. To be perfect, everything has to be authentic, but with the perfect proportions and a subtle something—everything is just about the obsession for perfection!
style.com

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10-01-2012
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The last two RTW and the last two Couture collections have been STUNNING. I think these two have come in their own at Valentino and re-established it as a classical, romantic, and yet totally modern. and just a tad bit subversive, house.

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17-04-2013
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US Harper's Bazaar May 2013
Valentino's New Reign

Photographer: Ben Weller
Models: Kayley Chabot, Pauline Hoarau, Erika Labanauskaite, Hevig Palm & Zlata Mangafic
Styling: Joanna Hillman
Hair: Guido
Make-Up: Pat McGarth


Digital Edition Harper's Bazaar May 2013 via Mat Cyruss

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Quote:
Saving Grace

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli are reinventing Valentino’s legendary elegance for the next generation. Meet the keepers of the flame as they open the new Valentino flagship in New York.

“Bello, bello, bellissimo!” cries Maria Grazia Chiuri as a model walks slowly toward a cluster of designers and stylists who are staring intently at what she is wearing: a geometrically shaped sheath dress made from latticed cream silk chiffon embellished with bold graphic floral symbols in chocolate brown satin. Seconds after the “bellissimo,” a half-dozen people clad in crisp white cotton coats enter the room smiling bashfully as Chiuri and the man sitting beside her, Pierpaolo Piccioli, stand up and applaud them.

The dress is one of the works in progress designed by Valentino creative directors Chiuri and Piccioli for the fall haute couture collection. They are paying tribute to the recent recruits of the house’s couture ateliers, who had sewn the satin motifs with such finesse that the stitches are barely visible. It is a long-standing tradition for trainees to be assigned such seemingly simple tasks, but the artisans themselves appear anything but traditional.

For starters, several of them are male—until recently, Valentino’s couture workshops were staffed solely by women. The new arrivals are also surprisingly young for an industry dominated by older employees, but Valentino has had to expand its workforce to meet the soaring demand since Chiuri and Piccioli’s appointment six years ago. Now, several dozen of the 67 couture employees are in their 20s, and the workshops are filled with fashionably bearded young men and young women shod in fluorescent sneakers.

Nor do their bosses seem out of place among them, because Chiuri, 50, and Piccioli, 48, look more like indie rockers than haute couturiers. The fittings take place beneath the frolicking cherubs painted on the ceiling of a particularly grand room in Palazzo Mignanelli, the imposing late-16th-century mansion beside the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome that has been Valentino’s headquarters since 1988, yet both creative directors seem dressed for the stage at Coachella. Her eyes ringed with kohl and short hair slicked back, Chiuri sports a dashingly cropped, dramatically fringed black suede cape dress. Knuckle-dusteresque rings ornamented with snakes and skulls gleam menacingly on her fingers, and a serpent bracelet coils around her wrist. “So elegant, so minimalist,” teases Piccioli, who is wearing a white T-shirt beneath a soft denim pajama suit from Valentino’s men’s collection and a high-tech pair of black and white sneakers.

“Couture isn’t something dusty that belongs to the past,” Piccioli says. “Making something that is one of a kind, and making it with great care, feels very modern to us.” So optimistic is the company about its future in couture that it has, in addition to hiring the 20-something ingénues, opened a third atelier for women’s couture and a fourth to produce an experimental men’s line. It is restoring many areas of Palazzo Mignanelli, which have been untouched since the late 1980s. And that’s not the only evidence of Chiuri and Piccioli’s success: There was Olivia Wilde at the Oscars, Amy Adams at the Golden Globes, Katy Perry at the Grammys, and a host of other celebrities who have chosen their graceful, gently sensual dresses for the year’s biggest events. Then there are the Instagram snaps of Alexa Chung and Keira Knightley in Valentino’s willowy frocks, and the counterfeit copies of Chiuri and Piccioli’s gold-spike Rockstud shoes and bags piled up in flea markets everywhere. There is also the world’s biggest Valentino store, which debuts on New York’s Fifth Avenue this month. Designed by the British architect David Chipperfield, it features an extraordinary glass facade inspired by the Seagram Building on nearby Park Avenue. Chiuri and Piccioli will decamp to New York in December to celebrate the Fifth Avenue flagship with a couture show featuring pieces specially designed for the event.

At a time when so many fashion and luxury houses are striving to redefine their brands under new creative teams, Valentino is emerging as a role model of how to do so successfully. “If you look back to where Valentino was when Maria Grazia and Pierpaolo took the helm, it’s clear that they’ve changed the clothes quite dramatically, and yet it has been a stealth job,” says Lisa Armstrong, a fashion editor at the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. “I can’t imagine that they’ve alienated many of the faithful, but they’ve certainly acquired legions of new fans.”

Even so, rebuilding Valentino without Mr. Valentino (as everyone at the company still calls its namesake, Valentino Garavani) has been an arduous endeavor. A towering force in fashion since 1960, when he started the house, until his retirement in 2008, the Sheikh of Chic, as Women’s Wear Daily dubbed him, was as famous for his sybaritic lifestyle—the jets, the yacht, the pugs, the fabulous parties at magnificent homes like the 17th-century Château de Wideville near Paris—as for his beautifully feminine collections. The media mythology began early on, when Elizabeth Taylor ordered a white chiffon gown while shooting Cleopatra in Rome in 1961 and wore it to the Spartacus premiere. (The following day she helped herself to seven outfits as a quid pro quo for the publicity.) Valentino and his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, subsequently proved to have a knack for wrangling favorable terms from retailers—and for discreetly rejuvenating their entourage, which has included everyone from Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn in the ’60s to Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway in recent years.

Valentino’s first successor, the Italian designer Alessandra Facchinetti, garnered positive reviews—in 2008, Cathy Horyn hailed one couture collection as “gorgeous” in the New York Times—but was charged with veering too far from house tradition, not least by Valentino and Giammetti, and left after two seasons. Stefano Sassi, who had been appointed chief executive officer in 2006 with the unenviable challenge of orchestrating the succession, advocated for two insiders to replace her; Chiuri and Piccioli had worked for Valentino since 1999, designing shoes, bags, and other accessories.

Piccioli and Chiuri met by chance in the late ’80s, when Piccioli, then studying in Rome, visited a mutual friend in Florence. As a favor to the friend, Chiuri, who was working as an assistant to a Florentine fashion designer, offered to meet Piccioli at the train station. Off she went, clutching a handwritten sign reading pierpaolo. They hit it off instantly, having lots in common: two Romans with a love of fashion, art, photography, and film. Whereas Chiuri, the daughter of a dressmaker, was “born into fashion,” as she puts it, and spent her teens scouring flea markets for vintage bags, Piccioli developed his interest more discursively. “I always liked the idea of telling stories,” he recalls. “As a teenager, I was more into movies and photography, but then I understood that I really liked what you could say with fashion.”

After Chiuri was offered a job with Fendi’s design team in Rome in 1989, she asked if Piccioli could join her, and he arrived two years later. “I like working with other people, spending time with them and talking through ideas,” she explains. “I don’t like working on my own.” “I’m definitely the same,” Piccioli chimes in. “It’s so much better to share a vision in fashion. I think things through more with Maria Grazia than I would on my own. I hate—we both hate—the idea of a designer alone with just a pen, paper, flowers, and candles. It’s such an old idea.” “And so boring,” adds Chiuri, rolling her eyes mock-theatrically.

They have been a professional couple ever since. She is the more instinctive of the two and he the more reflective, but they share every task, rather than dividing responsibilities, and are so at ease that they often finish each other’s sentences. Having thrived at Fendi, where they helped design the house’s blockbuster Baguette bag, they flourished in their discreet but increasingly profitable accessories niche at Valentino. By the time Facchinetti departed, they had worked there for almost a decade and had firmly established their family lives in Rome: Chiuri with her husband and two children in the city center, and Piccioli with his wife and their three kids in Nettuno, a small coastal town about 40 miles away

Even so, their early collections received lackluster, sometimes hostile reviews. “Frankly, I’d be worried about getting too close to one of those prickly, encrusted numbers,” wrote Horyn in 2009 in the New York Times after their second couture show; Women’s Wear Daily dismissed the following season’s as “too desperate to be achingly cool.” Giammetti grumbled publicly—the Los Angeles Times likened him and Valentino to “cantankerous grandparents”—yet Chiuri and Piccioli ploughed on.

“When Valentino was there as the figurehead, the company had the luxury of never having to think about what it stood for,” observes Chipperfield, who started working with the house on the design of its stores the same year of Chiuri and Piccioli’s appointment. “But when he left, everyone came out of the shadows trying to work out whether something was ‘in the spirit of Valentino’ or ‘not very Valentino.’ The same thing happens to every company in that position.”
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Whereas Valentino himself had relished leading the luxurious lifestyle of his super-rich clients, like other designers of his generation and, indeed, as had Giammetti, neither Chiuri nor Piccioli was inclined to do so. “Look, I live by the seaside, and the longer I work in fashion, the more I like being there,” Piccioli declares. “I don’t like parties. I don’t like crowds. I like people to know me for myself, not for what I represent.” Rather than define the brand through their personalities, Chiuri and Piccioli have articulated its new identity by reinterpreting its heritage in their work, much as Raf Simons is doing at Dior and Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. So uninterested are they in publicizing their private lives that they seem happy to allow Valentino and Giammetti to continue to act as unofficial social ambassadors for the house, sitting front row at the shows and sharing the spotlight at dinners and events.

The decor of Palazzo Mignanelli says it all. Valentino’s portraits (Warhols included) still hang in pride of place, as do the shots of Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn in his ’60s gowns. But the atelier walls are festooned with magazine tear sheets of Emma Stone and Michelle Williams in new looks, and outside the conference room is a series of team portraits of Chiuri, Piccioli, and the dozens of colleagues who contribute to each season’s couture collection. Chiuri and Piccioli work from Valentino’s old office, which is pretty much intact except for their two simple wooden desks, which sit side by side, in place of his Empire desk. As for the elevator once reserved only for Mr. Valentino, it is now accessible to everyone. It is as if, rather than trying to replace him, Chiuri and Piccioli have cast themselves as custodians of a resplendent family estate that they intend to cherish before handing it to the next generation, hopefully in better shape.

They began with the clothes: modernizing the elegant femininity of vintage Valentino by simplifying the styling, accentuating the craftsmanship, and adding an element they call “grace”—“like elegance but subtler and untouchable,” Chiuri explains. At a time when many of their rivals seem hellbent on exposing as much female flesh as possible, Chiuri and Piccioli’s new Valentino look of long, fluid dresses with high necks and slender sleeves has appeared fresh, distinctive, and easy to dress up or down, as the Alexas and Keiras have demonstrated so ably. “I think their vision is the same as Mr. V’s—a deluxe princess with refined tastes and a leaning toward the demure,” Armstrong notes. “He had a distinctive narrow torso and slightly-raised-waist silhouette. So do they, albeit more extreme and rooted in a mythical Guinevere era.”

So pervasive has the Guinevere look become—not only within Valentino’s collections but in the plethora of copycat pieces—that Chiuri and Piccioli are now refining it. The fall couture collection set the tone when it was unveiled in Paris in July, with Emma Watson in black lace and Kim Kardashian flanked by Valentino and Giammetti in the front row. Inspired by the paintings of figures in ancient Greece they saw in an exhibition of work by the Pre-Raphaelite artists who emerged in Britain during the mid-1800s, they designed a series of pleated silk chiffon dresses with (daringly for them) bare backs. “Normally, our women are very covered,” Chiuri notes. “It was exciting for us to do dresses that revealed more but with the same grace, the same elegance.”

Not that they intend to stray far from the script: One of their strengths is a shrewd understanding of contemporary fashion culture. “The Internet has changed the idea of fashion completely,” Piccioli says. “There are a lot of clothes, a lot of accessories, and everyone sees them so fast that you have to be absolutely consistent by sending the same message with every single dress, every single bag. You can tell different stories each season, but only if they are in the same language or they won’t be recognizable.”

That language also defines Chipperfield’s design of the stores, which reflects his contemporary idea of an exquisitely crafted Roman palazzo built as a sequence of subtly different rooms from traditional Italian materials, like marble and terrazzo. “David is an architect, not a decorator, and that’s an important distinction,” Piccioli says. “He has translated our vision of fashion with spaces, not furniture, using antique materials in a very modern way, which is just what we do in the couture.” The resulting boutiques feel more luxurious than a typical fashion store—most of which are built as speedily as possible and not necessarily intended to last—and is more nuanced and refined. “The stores are put together very carefully, using the best materials by the best Italian craftsmen,” Chipperfield says. “People can smell and feel the care and quality that have gone into them. It is interesting that Valentino has become successful in a noisy world by being subtler and quieter.”

Chiuri sees the stores as the new Valentino equivalents of the glossy magazine shots of its founder’s sumptuous homes. Just as she and Piccioli have become confident enough to be more experimental with their collections, they and Sassi are encouraging Chipperfield to do the same with the stores, starting with the facade of the Fifth Avenue boutique. “It’s a very beautiful curtain wall, with extreme proportions of glass to remind you of that moment in New York when modern architecture was at its peak,” Chipperfield explains. One thing that you won’t see much of there, or in any other Valentino store, is the logo. “It’s important to us, of course, but not as decoration,” Chiuri says. “For us, the logo is a guarantee of good quality.”

Both she and Piccioli have enjoyed discovering Chipperfield’s other buildings and took a trip to Venice, when Chipperfield was curator of the 2012 Architecture Biennale, so he could treat them to a guided tour. They also relish the chance to get to know the photographers who work on Valentino’s ads, and they traveled to Mexico in 2011 with Deborah Turbeville to shoot one of her campaigns. “We were in the middle of nowhere, starting very early in the morning because Deborah wanted a special quality of light,” Piccioli recalls. “Then we’d stop for six hours and shelter in tents because the light was no good, before starting again.” “We were so tired,” Chiuri groans. “I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but Deborah, who must have been nearly 80, was running off, saying, ‘I’ve got to capture the light.’ ” They chose another favorite photographer, David Bailey, for this season’s campaign. “He’s my new hero,” says Piccioli, grinning. “So punk. So effortless. Hearing his stories about working with Diana Vreeland and Polly Mellen, well, it’s just fantastic.”

Similarly, they insisted on visiting the studio of the 81-year-old Italian Pop artist Giosetta Fioroni this spring, after choosing her early work—and that of her contemporaries Carol Rama and Carla Accardi—as an inspiration for this fall’s ready-to-wear collection. “When they came here, I was astonished, because they knew everything about me,” says Fioroni, who has since made a film for the Valentino website. “They’d say: ‘You did this in 1970, and this one was 1979.’ ”

Now that the geometric prints and exotic bird embroideries sparked by Fioroni’s paintings are in stores, Chiuri and Piccioli are putting the finishing touches on the spring ready-to-wear line they will show in Paris later in September and preparing the New York couture extravaganza. The next milestone in their custodianship will be back in Rome, where another boutique, which may even be a little bigger than Fifth Avenue’s, is under construction in an old bank adjacent to Palazzo Mignanelli. Soon, they hope, it will be joined by a couture school to train more apprentices and a gallery where the public can see the collections.

“We’re both obsessed with Rome, and it is Valentino’s home, so we’d like to give something back to the city,” Chiuri says. “We’re thinking of having an exhibition space where we could show pieces from the archive with our new work: putting the past and the present together, as we’ve always done at Valentino, maintaining its incredible heritage and values but translating them for people like us, living in another moment.”
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Nice article. The ed is so beautiful

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