27-Jun, 18:50

09:57, October 01 122 0

2016-10-01 09:57:05
At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli on His Own

ROME — One sunny day in September, Pierpaolo Piccioli, the creative director of Valentino, was sitting behind a modern light-wood desk in the brand’s headquarters on the Piazza Mignanelli, the square off the Spanish Steps, when the strains of a Frank Sinatra song drifted in through an open window from an accordion player busking on the cobblestones outside.

“I’ll do it my way” went the tune as Mr. Piccioli began to discuss that for the first time in 26 years as a member of a design partnership, he would be alone at the head of a house: Last summer, his design partner, Maria Grazia Chiuri, was tapped to become artistic director of Dior, and he was given control over Valentino. Finally, he was getting to do it his way, gearing up for his first solo show on Sunday in Paris.

John Williams could not have written a better soundtrack if he had tried.

The design divorce of one of the industry’s most successful teams — who were responsible for catapulting Valentino to billion-dollar status — caught fashion-watchers by surprise, sparking rumors of in-house squabbles. There was much hand-wringing of the what-is-Batman-without-Robin or Sherlock-without-Watson (or Angelina-without-Brad) kind.

But Mr. Piccioli thinks another breakup comparison is more accurate.

“Even if together the Beatles were the Beatles, I don’t think they could ever have written ‘Imagine,’” he said of the classic song, written when John Lennon was a solo artist. Of his particular separation, Mr. Piccioli said: “It was more like both of us taking our own path, to follow our own direction. Because it was the natural continuation of our journey, there was nothing traumatic about it.”

It wasn’t as if he was itching to be on his own, he said.

But “naturally in a moment of success, it is obvious that there are opportunities that can come up, and then you can choose whether to take them or not,” he said, an oblique reference to job offers that came his way. “For me it was more important remain in this place: It’s where I chose to be,” he said. “It’s more important to be here, than to be alone.”

That said, it hasn’t been business as usual at Valentino. After Ms. Chiuri’s departure in July, Mr. Piccioli shifted gears to move the brand “into something more similar to me.”

On the surface, the office that he once shared with Ms. Chiuri hasn’t changed much. He moved the desks (the two had faced each other), so he now looks onto a fireplace with a striking gold-framed 19th-century painting of a woman, a vestige of the brand founder Valentino Garavani’s occupancy of the office before he sold the company. And there are still many photographs, mostly black-and-white, of Mr. Piccioli and Ms. Chiuri at various stages of their career.

“Some photos remained, others changed, there’s no damnatio memoriae,” he said with a laugh, referring to the ancient Roman tradition of erasing the memory of a betrayer or traitor.

But the office is more congenial to what he described as his way of working, in which brainstorming is central. Collaborators describe Mr. Piccioli as roaming the fashion house freely, with the work environment in “a constant exchange.”

“For me, experimenting is fundamental, always, everything is valid, always,” Mr. Piccioli said. “I listen to everyone’s points of view, not just those who are designated to have a point of view. Then I decide.”

That modus operandi was in full force in September during two days of fittings, meetings with department heads over the coming collection, deliberations over seating at the Paris show, which will take place in the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, and not the usual tent in the Tuileries Garden to mark a new beginning.

“It seems to me it’s all a bit more fluid, perhaps,” he said of working without Ms. Chiuri. When they worked as a team, he said, they discussed decisions ahead of time, “so they were filtered, or at least already shared or elaborated,” he said. Now, it’s a direct line from Mr. Piccioli to his team. “The exchange is immediate, it’s direct.”

And fast, which is what Mr. Piccioli had to be after he found himself on his own in July with a ready-to-wear collection to create for Paris, and several others to conceive, including a pre-collection that he plans to present via a small fashion show in New York in January.

Summer was a blur, he said, a quick vacation with his wife and three children before plunging into a transformation of Valentino.

“You know, I started drawing again this summer,” he said, acknowledging that after years of working as part of a duo, he had lost sight “of the person who sits down alone to think and draw.”

He opened a sketchbook to show a series of mannequins, the embryo of what would become the Paris collection. He decided, he said, “that the runway show couldn’t be an inspiration too far from me and this first moment of my journey. I didn’t want it to be distant, but starting from the idea of metamorphosis.”

Hence, his desk was piled high with art books about notable Renaissance artists, as well as a tome about the 15th-century Venetian editor Aldo Manuzio, and Mr. Piccioli said he had read Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” this summer.

“I wanted to highlight change as a value,” without denying the past, he said. “I think that change is a statement in this moment, but the value is not in the aesthetic change. The value is in evolution.”

Final fittings of the collection last week with the chiefs of various departments were a constant back-and-forth of last-minute musings. Sitting on a wheeled chair and twisting his legs like a gangly teenager, Mr. Piccioli was generous with praise. “Bello” and “Bellissimo” he enthused as a variety of laces, velvets, tulles and brocades were fashioned into final form.

Rumors of ill will with his former partner were unfounded, Mr. Piccioli said. His exchanges with Ms. Chiuri used to be lively, even argumentative, the team agreed, but the discussions fueled their creativity, producing a unique vision out of diversity.

“We worked together cultivating differences,” Mr. Piccioli said. “That was our strength. We never tried to be similar, but to bring out the various facets that made us diverse. It wasn’t the simplest thing in the world, but it made working in two more interesting.”

Now, the work will necessarily have to be “more intimate, more personal” to his style.

Rockstud Spike, the leather bag that came out this summer with Mr. Piccioli’s imprint, is a case in point, with an ad campaign by the photographer Terry Richardson — responsible for the last few Valentino accessories campaigns — and inspired by Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” blog. Models were chosen off the streets in July. “There was the value of real individuality,” Mr. Piccioli said.

Mr. Piccioli made the videos for the campaign, a nascent foray into a genre he intends to pursue in the future, eventually making the videos for the company’s digital communications strategy.

For now, he is curating the content of the company’s online presence, which includes a revamped website, to go online Sunday. That said, Mr. Piccioli said he did not have any social media accounts, instead using his 19-year-old daughter’s when he wanted to “give it a go.”

If Mr. Piccioli was nervous about his debut, it wasn’t evident.

“I want to arrive in Paris without thinking about how others will react, wondering whether there is a change, or there isn’t,” he said, acknowledging the growing buzz. “What’s important for me is to preserve an aesthetic that I have always liked, a certain taste that was formed by a journey, and that will continue because it is tied to me, and also to Valentino and the way in which I interpret Valentino.”

Then he moved to an upper floor to view the accessories for the collection, adding to the color palette of the bags, conferring on heels, switching the shades on some sandal straps, as his accessory designers hurriedly took notes. It was dinnertime. “Tired?” one assistant asked.

“Tired?” Mr. Piccioli responded. “I haven’t finished at all.”