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Valentino delivered the digital experience the industry has been waiting for Fashion show review, BoF Professional

Rome, Italy – The fragmented couture week ended in Rome yesterday with a real show: Valentino. Well, a static show plus video, featuring an audience – just 30 journalists based in Italy – and real models. In a season of intense virtuality, it was an uplifting relief to be so close to dust, foam and human bodies again. It was also an intensely dreamy experience, housed in a magical place: Cinecittá, the movie studios where directors like Federico Fellini used to work.

Creative director Pierpaolo PiccioliThe couture experiment – a liberating reset action that was completely invented during the lockdown – needed such a space, if only because of its height. The 15 all-white, intensely elaborated silhouettes were radically elongated, sometimes up to 5 meters long. Grace Jones in a spiral crinoline painted by Keith Haring in the video “I’m Not Perfect” immediately came to mind.

Getting there, in terms of studio work, was not an easy task, but Piccioli is all about pushing the technique to the limit, and his dedicated seamstresses are all there for him to follow on the most impenetrable roads. The joy of putting clothes at the center was palpable and very commendable. Blown up to such gigantic proportions, accompanied by the floating soundscape of FKA Twigs, the dresses looked like dreamy objects that were really made, because now more than ever before we have to dream with open eyes.

“I think it is not my duty to reflect the historical moment, but to respond to it,” Piccioli said afterwards. “I wanted to make a strong mark and overcome limitations.”

You must appreciate such dedication anyway: Piccioli certainly lacks a sense of purpose, imagines the imagination to new heights, and makes fantasies real. And yet the collection has received real life through the digital medium, which tells about its unique way of thinking. Elsewhere, digital components were often harmful or reduced fashion. Here the virtual enlarged, expanded and completed the experience. Piccioli was involved in digital maestro Nick Knight in the creative dialogue, which compensated Knight’s cold gaze with Piccioli’s sentimentality.

The descendants of such a face-off were a video entitled ‘Of Grace and Light’. Sure, there was a lot of Lee McQueen in cinematography – Knight produced groundbreaking work with the late prodigy – but the effort managed to give life and movement to clothes that, due to their proportions, were otherwise static and monumental. On the screen, everything looked dematerialized in color and light: dresses as bundles of pure energy. By working with colorful projections, delays and glitches, Knight and Piccioli delivered a very warm piece of video making, further interweaving fashion and digital.

Or, to put it in Piccioli’s words: “Digital is not really my world, but it can be a new tool as long as people are central.” The debate about real versus virtual remains clearly open, and all the better for it. This is a milestone.

The images in this review, courtesy of Valentino, are not the full Valentino Haute couture Collection Autumn / Winter 2021.