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Pierpaolo Piccioli on “Forever Valentino Outlet,” the Theatrical and Sweeping Exhibition Exploring the House’s Codes and Values That Opens in Doha This October

Fashion, for all its future focus, is perpetually engaged with the past. Nowhere is that more evident than at Valentino, where Pierpaolo Piccioli is actively working in dialogue with the legacy created by Valentino Garavani and the atelier, which carries on traditions of craft that have been passed down through time. Valentino is a Roman house, and no other city’s history is more alive and in constant collision with the present than Rome. That back-and-forth is manifested in “Forever Valentino,” a sweeping and theatrical exhibition presented by Qatar Museums and Maison Valentino, opening on October 28 at the M7 design and innovation hub in Doha, as part of the yearlong Qatar Creates project. Working with Piccioli on the show is Massimiliano Gioni, the Edlis Neeson Artistic Director at the New Museum, New York, and artistic director of the 55th Venice Biennale, and Alexander Fury, journalist, author, and collector, who is making his curatorial debut.

Valentino Garavani with the atelier staff at the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Valentino Garavani with the atelier staff at the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

 

Rather than use time as the organizing principle of the exhibition, the dream team of curators has focused on place: Rome. “I think that being a Roman couture house is what makes Valentino so special, unique,” says Piccioli on a call. “Roma has a big influence on my work.” The Rome conjured in the exhibition is not the Rome of postcards and stereotypes, but the actual city inhabited by real people and, in particular, the Rome as the home of the Maison Valentino. The creative director was clear about not wanting to fall into “the trap of an illustrative and kitsch view of Rome,” says Gioni. “I think also what Piccioli brings to fashion, and to Valentino particularly, is an idea of Rome as a cosmopolitan city, as a truly lived city, as a place where coexistence has been around for centuries…a city that is much more polyphonic, intricate, and beautiful in its diversity than the narrative of the emperors has made us believe.”

Lord Byron once described Rome as the “city of the soul,” and perhaps this is the most succinct way of talking about the Rome that “Forever Valentino” brings to Qatar. This take on the city is very much like Piccioli’s own approach to the house of Valentino; his focus is on capturing the spirit of its heritage in emotional and inclusive designs.

And so visitors start their tour of “Forever Valentino” in the same way that employees of the maison start their days, by entering into (in this case a replica of) the courtyard of the headquarters at Palazzo Mignanelli, where Igor Mitoraj’s outsized sculpture Sorgente del Centurione commands the space. “The really interesting thing with the sculpture is that it kind of replicates this idea of fragments of the past made into a modern work,” explains Fury. “It’s an overview of the dresses designed both by Garavani and Piccioli, so it’s initiating this idea of conversations between contemporary works and the past, animating them, and encouraging the visitors to make these connections between history and now.” It’s important to note that the exhibition, including this section, features both haute couture and ready-to-wear designs.

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The Fiesta dress designed by Valentino Garavani for the spring 1959 couture.

Photo: Courtesy of Valentino
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The new Fiesta dress by Pierpaolo Piccioli for fall 2022 couture.

Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

Then visitors can step into the all-white rooms of the atelier. “The color of [a] couture [atelier] is white, even the floor is white, because when the pins drop you have to see them,” Piccioli says. “It’s a very simple and functional reason, not just a symbolic one.” But the idea of couture, as the creative director suggests, is also one of carte blanche; custom-made clothes that start their life as white toiles. In this room are dresses in different states of becoming, and they can be appreciated for their architecture and objectness, but, as Gioni says, Piccioli also wanted to capture in these rooms a “sense of the actual intimacy and [the] incredibly personal relationship between the client and the maison and the clothes themselves.” Piccioli’s belief in openness was also on display for spring 2023. “We did the Spanish Steps show in July,” he explains. “The Spanish steps are a big monument for everyone, [but] for us it’s the place where we go to have a coffee, so it’s kind of intimate.”

Onward to the Capriccio Romano, a black and white room—the clothes within also share this palette—designed in homage to the cinema, which makes the space more closed and intimate. This is an example of what Gioni calls the “contractions and expansions” that create the rhythm of “Forever Valentino.” He describes the set as “a collision of fragments of Rome, very much abstracted,” and it contrasts the arched grandeur and classical architecture of the Coliseum with that of the industrial Gasometer that “speaks of a Rome that is much more Passolini in the 1960s or 1970s.” Moving images are projected on white dresses suspended from the ceiling. “It’s a little bit like you are stepping out of the reality of the atelier and into this complete fantasy,” muses Fury. “I think there’s quite a lot of that within the show where you’re moving from kind of ‘real’ spaces to unreal spaces; these kinds of fantasies and realities, which are, for me, like the rhythm of couture.” He adds, “A couture show is a fantasy, and then as soon as it gets on the body of a client, it becomes a reality, so I thought it was quite nice to mirror that.”

Visitors exit from this interlude and enter the Divas room, where photos of celebrities wearing Valentino dresses cover the walls that surround some of the actual dresses. This mimics most people’s experience of couture, not as actual three-dimensional objects but flat. Here, the dimensions collide. It’s also where you’ll find pieces designed for stars of the past and present that represent the changing worldviews about women and their roles in society. “Our job as creators is to deliver our vision of beauty related to the times we are living, so of course my vision of beauty is different from the vision of beauty of Mr. Valentino, because the times we are living are different,” says Piccioli. In the ’60s it was radical, the creative director explains, for Mr. Valentino to consider his star clients, including Jacqueline Onassis, “not only as wives or lovers.” Piccioli continues, “In a way he was provocative for the times; he was embodying the new women [through] the silhouette, the cuts. And I think I have to do the same, to try to define the new way of being women, to try to define beauty, which is not objective, it’s about celebrating the uniqueness of everyone. So our points of views are, in a way, different, but the roots and the symbols through which we deliver our ideal of beauty are similar.”

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Valentino fall 2022 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Valentino
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Valentino fall 2022 ready-to-wear

Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

Like the red carpets for which the dresses in the Divas room were created, runway shows are similarly exclusive, but everyone is invited to the Parade room, which is painted in PP pink and features word art by Douglas Coupland that—in quite a literal sense—represents dialogue. The dialogue is one of the organizing tenets of the exhibition, but it is also, says Gioni, “a reflection on the construction of identity through media, the construction of identity through staging.” This particular shade of pink was introduced in the fall 2022 ready-to-wear collection. Of it, Piccioli says he was trying to find a “different dimension,” and the color became the way to express individuality. “Because everything was in one color, it was a sort of an invitation to see with different eyes, with [different] perspectives,” Piccioli reveals. The designer was thinking not only about how we could see people differently, but also see the color pink itself in a new light.

Following is the Wunderkammer room, focused on the maison’s bijou wonders. (Some of the pieces are actually hanging on the ceiling, which is another way Gioni has played with the idea of changing perspectives.) Then onto the archive room, which is modeled after a storage space. Here, Fury wanted to replicate his own experience of discovery when going through the maison’s holdings; to capture “this idea of hidden treasure and going around corners, opening a drawer, and uncovering something amazing.” It’s an interactive room where visitors can similarly pull drawers to discover hidden treasures. For Piccioli, it was important that Valentino’s history be inclusive; also included are designs he created with Maria Grazia Chiuri as well as their predecessor, Alessandra Facchinetti.

“Forever Valentino” offers the most intimate look at Piccioli’s process that has ever been seen. Displayed alongside his designs are the intimate cahiers de défilé, or dream books, that have never been seen before and contain photos, drawings, and notes he creates for every collection. “There’s a lot of myself in this job,” says the designer, and showing these books, though a bit daunting, is a way of “being kind of unfiltered.” From this moody and intimate room, the exhibition opens up to a reproduction of the Piazza di Spagna. Called Roman Conversations, this section explores the power of color with a collection of 60 or so dresses in what Fury calls “Renaissance” hues. “It’s very much about this gorgeous, intense, quite instinctive reaction to color, which in Pierpaolo’s work is such an incredible tool that he uses incredibly well and that everyone knows him for,” the curator explains. “And it’s also, again, connecting that with Mr. Valentino’s use of color.” The color in the clothes isn’t the only thing that is important here. “We decided to have five colors of mannequin skins in order to depict different cultures, different ethnicities,” Piccioli says. “I think it’s important for me to deliver this idea of diversity; we cannot take for granted something that is still not, so it was important for all of us to give…the idea of equality and dignity for different cultures.” Piccioli, remember, is the man who reimagined Cecil Beaton’s famous 1948 photograph of [white] models in Charles James gowns with women of color for the spring 2019 couture collection.

Piccioli’s own inclusive, emotive, Roman way is as inseparable from the city as it is from the Maison Valentino. “Roma is a city of layers, but of layers that live together,” he says. “That’s the beautiful balance between Passolini and the angels, and the monastic spirit and paganism. There’s a sort of tolerance in all the layers, so every moment in Roma is unique, and you live in this very precarious kind of moment, but that’s the beauty, the ephemeral poetry of this city.” He continues, “Once you try to relate to the big monuments of Rome, you understand that humans are very small relative to the history of the heart, and everything becomes personal.” “Forever Valentino” warmly welcomes visitors and encourages them to engage in conversation with the house and its inclusive values.