Since his influential haute couture spring/summer 2019 show, which drove showgoers to tears, Valentino‘s Pierpaolo Piccioli has been pushing the concept of inclusive model casting. The Valentino couture presentation three years ago had a cast of 65 models, 43 of whom were Black. The creative director of the Italian heritage brand, wrote on social media at the time, ‘Couture is a dream. Although it celebrates uniqueness, which is a synonym for diversity, it has always meant to be for white people.’
The Valentino collections by Piccioli are a rainbow of acceptance and a celebration of what it means to be different. ‘Anatomy of Couture’, the name of this year’s show, was no exception. Three years on from his 2019 show Piccioli is still arguing for community-driven couture. This is no mean feat in an industry like fashion. The exhibition and the collection were another step toward a couture vision that is inclusive to everybody. The brand’s made-to-order gowns glittered more than ever on bodies that were real and relatable, signalling a positive move toward making couture a more diverse sector of the industry. Nothing in fashion is more daring than a slightly rounded thigh or tummy.
From the moment 57-year-old supermodel Kristen McMenamy opened the Valentino couture show in Paris, it was clear the fashion house was breaking with convention. With Haute Couture Week collections normally worn by young and slim models, Piccioli provided two things rarely seen on the most exclusive of runways: grey hair and refreshingly average body sizes. After McMenamy opened the with the type of imposing presence that only decades on the catwalk can deliver, a group of men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and sizes walked through the opulent rooms of Paris’s Place Vendôme.
Valentino looked more dreamy than ever on more relatable figures, demonstrating Piccioli’s couturier skills – something which may encourage other designers to follow suit. Models showcased taffeta dresses, structured overcoats, and dramatic capes as they walked up a spiral staircase to an uplifting soundtrack by musician Anohni. Industry insiders and social media users praised Piccioli’s body-positive attitude, with many pointing out how the designs suited each model’s dimensions.
The enduring dominance of the size zero ideal in fashion has been concealed by the habit of using one or two token ‘plus size’ models in shows – typically dressed in longer, looser clothing than their slimmer colleagues, lest their flesh offend. By contrast, in the Valentino show, leather-look satin embraced normal-sized curves here, while soft thighs peeked through sharp thigh-high splits in a silk faille skirt.
Following the presentation, Piccioli stated on Instagram, ‘This collection interrogates the body, this collection challenges the canon. It does so, after a long reflection, and it does so in order to represent a wider idea of beauty.’
The significance of diversity at fashion’s highest echelon, where gowns are made to order with six-figure price tags, may seem an improbable conduit for the winds of modernity, but Piccioli feels it is powerful. He has transformed what was once a beacon of aristocratic splendour into one of fashion’s most progressive labels in just five years. In its show notes, the brand said it was ‘rethinking the rituals and processes of couture’ and ‘promoting an idea of beauty that is not absolute.’ Piccioli did not design the collection with a singular body type in mind, the fashion house wrote, but rather ‘on a variety of women with different body frames and ages.’
It’s never ‘mission accomplished’ in a world where certain beauty standards are still dominant, but Piccioli is paving the way for a brighter future in fashion.