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Valentino House Proud

Valentino Creative Directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli.

By Alexandra Marshall

Legendary designers are hard acts to follow. The fashion industry has already witnessed some messy transitions from elder to younger generation. During Tom Ford’s five shaky years as creative director at Yves Saint Laurent, Ford has said that Saint Laurent himself used to send hate mail. There have been five head designers at Bill Blass since the company changed hands in 1999. And after Valentino Garavani stepped down from Valentino, in 2007, there was turmoil around his replacement, Alessandra Facchinetti. Two seasons later, she was out, and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, formerly Valentino’s heads of accessories, took her place. 

It could have been just another fashion succession drama. But then people saw what the two designers, a professional team since fashion school, were sending out on the runway: fragile, serene clothes with a hint of storybook sweetness, a hint of retro and very demure sex appeal. And they did it really consistently. Small armholes, jewel necklines and puffy sleeves have now become as much a Valentino signature as Garavani’s fire-alarm red, which Chiuri and Piccioli have embraced as their own.“Our intention was to balance the brand’s heritage with our personal style,” says Chiuri. “There was a search for delicacy, which we linked to grace, something we like in women.” Valentino went from being a mainstay for red carpet divas, but without a lot of ready-to-wear heat, to a critics’ darling and a next-generation socialite powerhouse, attracting girls of the moment like Alice Dellal, Bianca Brandolini d’Adda, Chloë Sevigny and Florence Welch. 

Under Chiuri and Piccioli, Valentino isn’t just beautiful, which it always was. It’s also cool again. Now, in their tenth season, the designers may be sticking with what’s working, clothes-wise, but the business is not sitting still. Valentino returned to profitability in 2011. In January of last year, Chiuri and Piccioli took over the men’s collection, which they’ve already expanded into a sportswear capsule called Camouflage, debuting this April. Last year also saw the launch of a new store concept, designed by David Chipperfield, with an eclectic approach, the look and feel changing from room to room to read more like a home than a sterile shop. “Like we do, David believes in the necessity to renew oneself while preserving memory,” says Piccioli. Valentino’s Milan flagship—some areas sleek (black and white checkerboard marble and curtains of glass tubes), some clubby (walnut panels, inlaid bronze chandeliers)—opened first, with Beverly Hills following soon after. 

Not surprisingly from two designers with a background in shoes and bags, accessories have become a core strength, too, with the new bag line, Rockstud, a hit—something both Chiuri and Piccioli say they’re especially proud of. “Fifteen years ago when we started at Valentino,” says Piccioli, “we wanted to prove that even a fashion company that was born as a couture house could create bags and shoes as if it was born as an accessories firm, and we succeeded!” All this promise caught the eye of the Qatari royal family, who bought Valentino from Permira group in October of 2012 and has since increased funding for Valentino, especially its international expansion.

Though Valentino started as a company to serve the needs of a particular European jet set, today we live in a borderless world. Chiuri and Piccioli’s thick, thick accents may say Italian, but Valentino speaks many more languages now. “The more we travel and discover women everywhere,” says Chiuri, “the harder it is to find real differences linked to geographic locations. Women are multifaceted. The same woman may want to be fragile, sensual, romantic or masculine all at the same time.” Adds Piccioli: “The universe of women is difficult to define. This is why it is so fascinating.”

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