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Pierpaolo Piccioli's legacy: Modern couture, 'PP Pink' and humanity at Valentino

By Jule Scott


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Valentino Haute Couture FW23 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

The fashion industry has always been characterised by change, but Pierpaolo Piccioli's departure from Valentino still came as a surprise.

The designer's departure after more than two decades with the Italian fashion house comes just a few weeks after his last autumn/winter 2024 collection - a collection that now leads us to speculate about its significance. Were the all-black ensembles to be interpreted as harbingers of a change that was already in the air?

As tempting as it may be to speculate about the significance of the lack of colour and the designer's possible successor, the farewell is above all an opportunity to look back on Piccioli's best moments, his masterful use of colour and his formative time at Valentino.

Valentino always held in honour

In many ways, Piccioli, much like former Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, who is rumoured to be taking his place, was a prototype for today's designers at the big fashion houses. Instead of being appointed creative director by another major house, Piccioli worked his way up at Valentino.

The Italian joined Valentino in 1999 and initially worked as an accessories designer. His accolade as creative director followed in 2008, when he took on the role alongside Maria Grazia Chiuri, with whom he had previously worked for Fendi over 10 years. Chiuri eventually moved to Dior in 2016, where she still works, leaving Piccioli as sole director of Valentino.

While many creative directors, such as Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and former Givenchy creative director Matthew Williams, have sought to rewrite the history of their respective heritage houses and redefine the founder's codes, Piccioli has remained faithful to the man whose name adorned the atelier door. Over the years, there have been many references to brand founder Valentino Garavani, and he certainly appreciates this fact.

"Thank you, Pierpaolo, above all for your friendship, your respect and your support," wrote Garavani in a post on the social media platform Instagram, which also referred to his own retirement in 2007. At the time, he had decided, just like Piccioli now, to "leave the party while it was still in full swing".

"You are the only designer I know who has not tried to distort the codes of a great brand by imposing new codes and the megalomania of a ridiculous ego," said the Valentino founder.

Between loyalty, modernity and couture revolution

The aforementioned codes - from a clear preference for couture to an enduring enthusiasm for 'Valentino red' - flowed seamlessly into Piccioli's own signature, and yet the designer never seemed to be trapped in the past. Red turned pink, more and more everyday wear, even 'denim', was incorporated into couture. The brand was increasingly rejuvenated and Piccioli proved how human even the highest art of tailoring can be. Under his guidance, fashion became a tool for a better world in which inclusion was no longer just a concept and beauty had a healing power.

Valentino Couture 2023 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Few shows were as emblematic of Piccioli's vision and skill as his couture collection for autumn/winter 2022, which was presented under the name 'The Beginning' and took place at the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. The show opened with a look covered in large rose petals that resembled a counterpart from Valentino Garavani's debut. What followed was an ode to the world of Valentino, taking care to open it up to a diverse cast of models of different genders, dress sizes, ages and skin colours - as well as 120 students from Rome's fashion schools, who got to watch the entire Valentino atelier take their bows along with their creative director.

Valentino Couture FW22. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight
Valentino FW22 Couture. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

It was neither the first nor the last time that Piccioli presented his definition of beauty, which is still a rarity in the world of couture today. His SS19 show was based on the idea of recreating a famous Cecil Beaton photograph of dresses by couturier Charles James from 1948, but Piccioli reinterpreted this iconic work with models of colour, choosing colours that accentuated the models' respective skin tones, while for his SS22 couture collection he dispensed with the traditional fitting on a so-called 'fit model' and designed dresses directly for the individual bodies and skin tones of his models - honouring the original spirit of couture.

Valentino SS22 Couture. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight
Valentino SS22 Couture. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

However, it would be presumptuous to pretend that one of the designer's most enduring legacies is anything other than a specific colour, because long before the summer of Barbie arrived, there was PP Pink. What began as a 'pink-out' for autumn/winter 2022/23 and was intended as a 'radical gesture' quickly became synonymous with Piccioli's work. The only colour presented that season was created with the help of the Pantone Colour Institute and was intended to "maximise the expressive possibilities in the apparent lack of possibilities", as Valentino's show notes put it at the time. And although the bright colour gradually faded in the following collections and other, equally strong but less singular shades were offered, no colour was able to fire the public's imagination as much as pink.

Valentino AW22 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

All the more reason to ponder whether Piccioli, who "has always considered colour a powerful channel for immediate and direct communication", has opted for something for his final farewell collection that he saw "neither as an absence of colour nor as an exercise in monochrome or monotony", but rather as the discovery of a whole spectrum of shades, infinitely nuanced, in a single colour - as was once the case with 'PP Pink'.

What is certain is that the fashion world will have time to both mourn and celebrate the end of Pierpaolo Piccioli's era at Valentino, because although rumours are already circulating about a possible successor, the Italian brand is not due to present a couture collection or a men's collection in June.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

Pierpaolo Piccioli