To stay, or not to stay… That was the question posed to Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, one half of the duo that has given a new and different life to the Italian house, since founder Valentino Garavani left the stage.
In the theatre of fashion, Pierpaolo Piccioli will stay and Maria Grazia will go to fill the empty seat at Dior, although the official announcement is not expected until Friday.
As the show opened to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the first figures appeared: dark, straight clothes, snow-white ruffs and hair netted puritanically. This could only have been a celebration of William Shakespeare’s 400-year reign over theatre. And so the show notes revealed, talking about “the capacity of penetrating the human spirit and depicting it with vivid accuracy in all its aspects and implications”.
Those seem like elevated words for mere clothes. Yet there has always been something still and graceful, even prudish, about the current Valentino style. Without any dramatic statement, the duo has turned thoughtful women away from vulgarity and towards a new view of femininity.
That said, the clothes that were presented on stage were severe, not always in themselves, but in the way hair was drawn back, edged with a mesh of sparking stones like stars in a distant firmament.
How do we feel as women, looking at these sober clothes that pin women to a particular position? Especially as they were given names such as “Devotion”, “Dignity”, and “Discretion” - not to mention “Melancholy”. What is not in question is the extraordinary achievements of the couture studios where 480 hours were spent with silken applications and the title of “Solemnity”.
The show started: Shakespearian style with what looked like boys dressed as girls - or vice versa. It went on with more theatrical gestures, perhaps a red top with the puffy shoulders that are so much the fashion story of the season and also a harlequin patterned skirt. The best of the clothes were historical chic, the rest too costume-like to draw the usual emotion. Unlike Shakespeare, who would throw a clown into his tragedies, the fashion seemed unrelentingly sober – even though the decoration on the back of a cloak might take the breath away.
There was also an English historical element that seemed more suited to Alexander McQueen than the Roman couple.
Since visits backstage were barred by the normally welcoming couple, it was impossible to know whether the break-up of their joint work played any part in the feelings behind the show.
Probably not, because this path of almost spiritual artistry has been going on for a while. But this did feel like the end of something and hopefully the start of something new.