Valentino: Couture AW21

As the sun set on the Venice lagoon, Valentino’s couture models swept past in billowing taffeta gowns, like glorious galleons in full sail. Pierpaolo Piccioli had built a catwalk around the city’s ancient shipyard which is steeped in maritime history.

His message was: think big! And he certainly had, by collaborating in a unique way with 17 contemporary artists on 22 pieces in the collection. The designer and artists exchanged ideas and inspired each other with the aim of celebrating the dynamism of that creative conversation, the teams that craft it and always coming down on the side of talent. “Fashion is not art,” said Piccioli, “fashion always has a practical scope while art is an end in itself.”

The results of this unique coming together of contemporary art and clothing art created a kind of sensual overload. There was so much to take in. Let’s start with those big supersize gowns. 

The post-pandemic party dress is not a slip of a thing. It’s a magnificent crinolined concoction, made with fabric inspired by an artist, with a sweeping, bell-shaped skirt spanning at least two metres atop a tiny bodice twisted into a flower. Scarlett O’Hara would approve, as would every girl whose harboured a Cinderella ballgown fantasy. If you love Princess Diana’s wedding dress then these are your dream gowns. The grandeur romance and unbridled couture fantasy of it all was amplified by a sensuous colour palette of chartreuse, hot pink, dark chocolate and vibrant Valentino red.

But the big gowns were only half the couture story. There were teeny-tiny bubble-shaped cocktail dresses worn with wonderful feather hats that seemed to float like vivid, alien jellyfish atop the models’ heads.

Piccioli firmly believes in couture daywear – for men and women. Skirts were layered over trousers and elegantly draped coats, slouchy trousers, and silk tees were worn by boys and girls alike. These deceptively simple but beautifully finessed pieces had haute couture flourish, including a cerulean blue, floor length cape lined in glittering gold.

Rather than simply put a painting on a t-shirt, this collection represented the process of both artist and couturier – and it was richer for it. 

Photography courtesy of Valentino.