Friday, January 29, 2010

A brave new world...

Last year when Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri presented their debut collection for Valentino during the spring couture collections I, along with countless others, was scandalized that these two designers were chosen to replace Alessandra Faccinetti after her unceremonious dismissal from the house. Besides being accessories designers up until that point in their careers, they sent out a collection that, save for the not-quite-perfect design and workmanship, could very well have been designed by Valentino himself. In his sleep, I might add. During the summer, with their second couture outing, they showed a collection that went in another direction entirely. It was more youthful, filled with thigh high hems and lace-y transparency, and it was done entirely in black and nude, a very unusual sight for a Valentino collection. It wasn't without it's flaws, but it showed some potential. Then in the fall they sent out a RTW collection for S/S 2010 that was almost perfect for where Valentino should be now. It was youthful, but not overwhelmingly young or trendy, it was far less fussy and "Barbie-esque", and most importantly it was incredibly beautiful. Regrettably it came to my attention a couple of weeks after the shows ended and I never got around to reviewing it, but it raised my expectations for the new design duo ten fold.

Now here we are a year into their tenure, and the couture collection they sent out for the new season could only be described as the polar opposite of their debut. Ditching the Paolo Roversi-esque romanticism of their ready-to-wear collection and replacing it with a sci-fi/fantasy spirit, their cyber-Eden inspired collection came as quite a shock to me, and I'm sure to every other person who looked at it as well. It was brash, loud, very, very young with an unmistakable clubby-vibe to it, and it looked nothing like something Valentino himself would have designed. Most people who posted about it on the Fashion Spot seemed pretty offended about that last part. Personally, I'm thrilled that it doesn't look like the maestro's work, because there would be no point in a new designer trying to imitate an old one. But as happy as I am to see that Piccioli and Chiuri have dislodged their heads from Mr. Garavani's perma-tanned ass, I'm not happy with the results. In their zeal to make their work distinct from the immense heritage of the house, and to attract a younger clientele, the collection was just too heavy handed and the clothes suffered as a result. Using a palette made up of both neons and pale shades of beige and blush, the clashes of color didn't always work. In fact, combined with the tight draping and color-blocked, cross-over panels the look was cheap in that Leger/Pucci 80s body-con kinda way. There were also some loose beaded or embroidered mini tunics, which were some of the more appealing pieces in the collection, worn over ugly ruched or beaded chiffon leggings, a couple of quieter gowns that wouldn't be out of place on a red carpet, as well as some that would (tiered ruffles in a mix of taupe, blush and hi-liter yellow), two ruffled mini-dresses in patent shark skin (one in red, the other in olive green), and a heinous caped jumpsuit. The jumpsuit itself wasn't anything offensive, unless jumpsuits just aren't your thing, but the cape was like an ugly acid trip; red, coral, hot pink and neon yellow worked into a pattern that looked like the petals of a man-eating plant or something. Way too much would be an understatement. Basically, for every piece that wasn't half bad there were two that were. Overall the collection suffered from over-design and a lethal dose of trendiness.

Now, while I don't think this collection was good by any means, I also don't think that it was wrong. Chiuri and Piccioli have shown that they do in fact have more to offer than their initial collection would have led us to believe. Clearly they know that in order to keep the Valentino name relevant, it needs to be of the time, and that's the one good thing I can say about this show. Regardless of how tacky or poorly conceived it may be, it is most definitely in tune with what's going on in fashion. I don't think you could say the same about Valentino's work for his couture line. His work was always perfect, but for the better part of the aughties it really didn't manage to surprise or impress. You knew what a Valentino couture collection would look like before the first stiletto hit the runway. I could see why dependability like that might appeal to some, but I've always loved the fact that fashion, unlike almost any other fine or applied art, is constantly changing. At the very least the duo's collections have gotten people's attention and have been anything but predictable since their first venture. But so far none of the couture collections that Chiuri and Piccioli have shown have been a total success and I have a feeling that it's because they feel more pressure in the couture arena than they do with ready to wear, and rightly so. Couture is the ultimate test for any designer. But for two hand-picked successors with a background in accessory design, and after the mini-scandal that was unfolding at the time of their promotion? Let's just say I don't envy them. Who knows if they'll ever really amaze with their couture. But given more time I think that they'll at least learn to hold back from over styling and over designing, and the ride should be somewhat exciting for us to watch. Their spring collection showed what they're capable of doing, both in terms of making clothes and making Valentino youthful and current. They'd be smart to stick to whatever instincts led them there and to avoid, at all costs, neon yellow chiffon.

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