This major success for Pierpaolo Piccioli, left alone after his partner's departure to Dior, was helped by a collaboration with Zandra Rhodes
The fragility of the dresses, the sweetness of the faces, the gentle spirit of the Valentino show won over the audience before more than a handful of outfits had hit the runway.
Yet the test was tough for Pierpaolo Piccioli as to how he would fair now that his design partner of more than two decades had departed. Maria Grazia Chiuri left the Italian house earlier this year for French Christian Dior and made an acceptable start with her first show on Friday.
Pierpaolo showed his strength as the romantic of the pair. For Valentino spring/summer 2017, he used a winning blend of historicism, Italian technique and the country's distant past, to make a collection that was clear in its message and simple in its vision. Pierpaolo wanted women to look beautiful.
And he had found an unlikely spiritual partner — Zandra Rhodes — the British designer whose hand-drawn patterns have been a perpetual inspiration in fashion since they first appeared in the 1970s.
But instead of screen-grabbing some of the unique illustrations, Pierpaolo went to London and asked Zandra to create something new for Valentino. His dream — a new version of the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights — incorporating the Bosch art which he loves so deeply, with clothes for today.
“The idea of the Bosch painting was because I was seeking out that idea from the past," said the designer, who had on his mood board the original art work — Zandra's interpretations and pictures of her in the 1970s with bright fuchsia hair, an invention of the Punk period when to dye your hair pink really was shocking.
The result was historic and modern in equal measures, as a black dress appeared with bright pink inserts that looked like spears, as a prelude to the skirt's wider pinstripes. Then came other dresses, mostly ankle length, but fresh and summery — not at this stage precious evening pieces.
The total looks were rather more relaxed than at recent Valentino shows which had an almost religious undertone; there was even a casual white shirt with velvet patterned trousers and a leather jacket shrugged on for this season.
I asked the designer, who showed in the same grand building as previously, how he had coped with being left at Valentino as sole designer.
"The initial philosophy is that you have to forget your past, but I think this season I have to go inside myself — I have to understand my idea of beauty," said Pierpaolo.
"I'm Italian," he continued, "and even if my idea of beauty comes from other countries, it's generally from the same moment of the late Middle Ages, because there was an evolution of culture.
"I think of Bosch and The Garden Of Earthly Delights not as a Renaissance painting, but before this time, from the Middle Ages."
So the designer, loving the delicacy of the painting, its fantastic imagery and detailed landscapes, asked Zandra to interpret Bosch in a new print, but still in the traditional way of Italian handcraft, not as digital prints.
It is important that Valentino, its Italian roots planted so long ago by the founder, keep the balance between global success and its historic and artistic Italian past. That showed in each dress. These were elements seen in previous collections that Pierpaolo was now re-drawing as his own.
Except that he had chosen Zandra to collaborate on a pattern on a pink georgette dress or one in yellow, lightly printed from bodice to floor. I picked up a pattern of cacti and palm trees on a shorter dress and some prints that looked like black markings straight off the drawing board.
Why a Renaissance of Zandra Rhodes at age 76, even if her artistic skills have been present in fashion for 40 years? Pierpaolo explained how he needed someone who could re-think the concept of treating and over-dyeing fabrics to soften bright colours physically and visually.
After all this preparation, the show was a hit, with the audience cheering the designer's first show as a singleton. With Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino's partner joining in the applause, I asked Zandra how she felt.
"For me it was wonderful when Pierpaolo flew over with his team," she said.
"He showed me the Hieronymus Bosch book and asked me to do interpretations that were then sent to Como (Italy's silk centre) and the embroiderers. He totally followed me and my drawings and I was so honoured to be on the storyboard. I hope I can work with Valentino again."
But Zandra has not come out of retirement just for this work. She still designs across the globe and has a unique collection of 10 archive looks currently on sale online at Matches.