Valentino’s Couture AW21 Show, Through the Eyes of Angelo Flaccavento
The fashion flock seem to have discovered Venezia as the perfect backdrop for an unprecedented show. This is hardly a surprise: a city with streets made of water, Venice is as mysterious as it is opulent and as spectacular as it is romantic.
It is a place in which getting lost is the highest pleasure and the perfect way to get acquainted with the crazy topography of narrow little streets that keep circling, twirling and twisting. History, here, drenches all the calle, the campi and every little corner and sestiere, but it is the light that endlessly catches the eye, reflected and refracted by the jade green water of the canali, suffused by architecture that is as finely wrought out as lace. What’s not to love about setting a show in this scenario? Venice has always been loved by artists. Through both the Art and the Cinema Biennales, it fosters an enduring link with the creative world. On top of this, in 2021, 1,600 years have passed since the city was founded and the occasion for such a celebration is another magnet that draws attention towards Venice. As for fashion, Rick Owens was the first to come to town with a series of shows staged in different places at the Lido – where he also owns a summer house – that were as low-impact in production as they were high-impact visually. Now it is Valentino’s turn. The announced location, in the Arsenale, is immensely promising.
Wednesday, July 14
Having had my second dose of the vaccine in my Sicilian hometown, I leave for Venice late in the afternoon from Catania. There is no direct flight, so I take a connection in Roma and land at Marco Polo airport very late. A hostess is waiting for me at the gate: she escorts me to a car, which drives me to a dock – very complicated, I know, but the place is rather labyrinth- like – where I finally take the water taxi to the hotel. Arriving in Venice by the water, at night, is quite a sensational affair: a bit James Bond, a bit of a wild dream. Speeding up on the laguna, I feel like I am in a trance, set out of space and time. Lucky me, I have been accommodated in my very favourite Venetian hotel: the Bauer. What I love about this luxuriously stark abode is that the whole experience of staying in it is marvellously Austro–Hungarian – at once opulent and strict. The building, with a modernist facade on Campo San Moisè and a neo-gothic one on the Canal Grande, is a masterpiece of elegance and architectural balance. I particularly like the eerie and slightly mysterious aisles, with a string of identical, wooden room doors worthy of a noir movie, and the pale shade of green of the velvet tapestry and curtains. I get into my room well past midnight, as happy as a child. Buonanotte.
Thursday, July 15
The day starts softly with a slow breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Punta della Dogana, right where the Canal Grande leads the way to the Canale della Giudecca. It’s a sunny July morning but the temperature is lovely – I am told it rained heavily the day before. At 11am we gather in the hall and, divided into groups, we hop into water taxis and head to the Arsenale for the press conference. This is the custom for newspaper writers – I am here for Italian daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore: we talk to designers before the show so that, when the catwalk spectacle is over, we can immediately file our stories, no backstage chat needed. The press conference is being held in the show venue, which we enter from the backstage, so that the surprise of the actual setting under the porches of the Gaggiandre is not ruined. Pierpaolo Piccioli greets us with a big smile: dressed in a white-piped tobacco silk pyjama, he looks particularly relaxed and friendly. The backstage is just as calm, quite far from the hysteria one imagines filling such a space at showtime.
The explanation is long, heartfelt and detailed; a few models are wearing the creations Piccioli talks about. The creative director’s opening sentence is apodictic: “Fashion is not art”. And yet, Piccioli chose Venice, and the Gaggiandre in particular, precisely for the link with the art world. The collection, entitled Des Ateliers, features collaborations with 17 artists of different ages and backgrounds, gathered internationally with the aid of curator Gianluigi Ricuperati. This makes the Des Ateliers project rather complex, but there is nothing Piccioli loves more than solving complexities with an immediate gesture. The liaison between fashion and art is certainly not an easy one: more often than not, fashion houses use artist collaborations to give brute commerce a semblance of culture. Piccioli says he opted for dialogue, involving each painter in the creation of a different outfit, adapting their work to specific dress forms or the opposite. The approach is different to those who simply borrow artwork to use in a print: Piccioli was interested in the act of translation, in bringing things from the canvas to cloth, all the while building a community or factory of creatives around the house of Valentino. Community is his current mantra.
We leave feeling rather dizzy, eyes full of colours and heads full of thoughts, and head by water taxi to Harry’s Dolci, by Cipriani, where we eat baccalà mantecato and other local delicacies like there is no tomorrow, looking at the Canale della Giudecca. The plain-air moment is relaxed and fulfilling. Back to the hotel, there is time for us to have a quick nap before getting ready for the show.
The invitation requires us all to wear white and I happily oblige. This is actually the first time in my career I have been asked to adopt a certain kind of dress code to attend a show, which makes me feel a bit like a prop or a part of the scenography, but I know there is a reason, because Piccioli always has a plan.
Whitewashed and sanctified, we gather in the hall of the Bauer and hop on water taxis heading to the Gaggiandre, the show venue. It’s late afternoon. The light in the sky is golden and our arrival is magical. Set at the final stretch of the Arsenale, the building that usually houses sections of the Art and Architecture Biennale, the Gaggiandre are two rather metaphysical red brick porches on the water. Originally, they were ship-building and ship-repairing yards, and were constructed between 1568 and 1573 by Jacopo Sansovino, one of Venice’s most revered architects of the time. This is architecture that clearly belongs to the past, but it could also be something of the future, which gives out an electrifying feeling of spatial-temporal displacement. Piccioli set his floating runway under Sansovino’s arches, making models look like they’re walking on water. There is something poetical and almost mystical to the proceedings: the white-clad audience resembles a new-age gathering, while the sunset light turning from gold to pink suffuses everything with a kiss of sensuality. As the show is about to start, British singer Cosima takes her place at the end of the runway and begins performing live, giving goosebumps to us all. As the first outfits come out – a sequence of red, purple and orange – it is clear the audience is in white to maximise the chromatic effect.
The show is long, very long: 84 looks, each one different from the other, running the gamut from sumptuous, operatic ballgowns to minidresses worn with floating jellyfish maribou hats; from slender trenches to masculine capes, with silhouettes swinging from elongated and layered to short and sculptural. There is actually quite a lot of menswear, which was first added last season and looks particularly otherworldly in its colour- blocked minimalism. These are clothes that open up possibilities, for both women and men, in which the virtuosity of the workmanship dissolves in ineffable, effortless lightness. The artists’ collaborations are just a small part of the whole, and not even the best: the collection – a hypermodern, streamlined take on classic couture tropes – finds its true brilliance in the fearless use of colour and in the emotional sense of geometry. Piccioli has mastered a signature in couture that is like melting ice: cold and precise, yet trembling on the inside. That’s where he excels, and it’s all very touching.
Enchanted and exhausted, we leave the venue by water taxi and reach Palazzo Ca’ Giustinian, where the post-show cocktails are being served. It’s another bevy of baccalà mantecato and spritz, served on the top floor with a magnificent view of Punta della Dogana. Half an hour into the drinking and the eating, Piccioli joins us, looking exhausted and happy: the only black-clad person in the sanctified white audience. It’s all very amiable and nice, but the time has come to rush to the hotel and write.
Friday, July 16
After a quick coffee on the Canal Grande terrace, the water taxi is ready to bring me to the train station. I say goodbye to the Bauer and head to new fashion adventures.
VALENTINO COUTURE AW21: VENEZIA
Photographer Alessandro Raimondo
Text Angelo Flaccavento
Date July 15, 2021
Location Gaggiandre De L’arsenal, Venice
Designer Pierpaolo Piccioli
Stylist Joe Mckenna
Hair Guido Palau
Make-up Pat Mcgrath
Casting Aamo, Patrizia Pilotti