Valentino Fall 2019 Couture

The front row power trio of Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Campbell, and Celine Dion—and the paparazzi angling desperately for their shots—said it all: Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli is the couture designer who matters most in 2019. His Spring show, with its irrepressible color and diverse casting—he asked the rhetorical question, “What if Cecil Beaton’s famous photograph of Charles James dresses could be with black women?”—set a new template for collections with a conscience.

It’s no longer adequate to seduce with elegance and craftsmanship, though there is plenty of both at Valentino. Even in the rarefied echelon of couture, women are responding to and buying from brands they believe in, and Piccioli’s message of inclusivity is resonating in a world in which our leaders seem keen to promote isolationism, otherism and fear.

The designer’s new offering was very much a continuation of its predecessor. “The only way to make couture alive today is to embrace different women’s identities and cultures,” Piccioli said in a studio preview. Making good on that mission statement, Lauren Hutton, Cecilia Chancellor, Georgina Grenville and Hannelore Knuts, who range in age from mid-70s to early-40s, joined the lineup. “It’s about the idea of individualism,” Piccioli continued.

His moodboard reflected that notion with its mix of Avedon portraits, Guy Bourdin advertising shots, canvases by the Italian Renaissance mannerist Rosso Fiorentino, and paintings of Diana Vreeland. “The eye has to travel,” he said, referring to the documentary about the famous editor. And travel Piccioli did, adding what he called “folk” elements like ornamental hats and komondor wool fringe to his exquisite garments.

The major takeaway: sensational, glorious, buoyant color, often in surprising combinations including the citron green and prune of a trapeze top and culottes; the ochre, lilac, and fluoro yellow of a bustier, trousers, and belt; and aquamarine and brick found on a feathered coat and draped crepe dress. There was handwork to make the jaw drop, like a long dress with floral appliqués so painstaking to render they required 990 woman hours, or a sleeveless gown made of rose gauze squares attached together one-by-one over the course of 2,010 hours. “It’s not engineered by computer,” Piccioli said, “you can feel the humanity in it.” Just as stunning, yet almost-simple-by-comparison were the draped taffeta dresses in emerald green and electric orange worn by Lineisy Montero and Saskia de Brauw.

Summarizing any more would defeat Piccioli’s point about individuality. Put simply: the cumulative effect of all this beauty was irresistible. The audience was on its feet even before Piccioli walked out for his bow with his atelier staff. When Valentino himself began kissing his congratulations to each and every one of them, many of the typically impassive editors could be seen wiping away tears.