Vogue Forces of Fashion: Couture & Community
What a way to kick off the day!
Pierpaolo Piccioli is the newish Creative Director at Valentino. He has been at Valentino since 1999, beginning as an accessory designer after leaving Fendi’s accessories department. Upon Valentino’s retirement in 2008, he and his co-creative director were appointed. Since 2016 he has been the sole creative director at Valentino.
After a quick welcome and introduction from Anna Wintour it was all Hamish and Pierpaolo….
banking your future on couture and street cool
Pierpaolo Piccioli w/ Hamish Bowles
How to make a storied Roman house like Valentino relevant in 2018: Deign the most spectacular and free-spirited couture - and create a global desire for collections that speak the language of the street.
(That above is the official Vogue title and synopsis of the dialogue… click here to read their write up.)
I absolutely loved Pierpaolo Piccioli! He was so at ease with himself, and such a humorous, down to earth, wisdom filled interview. I felt like I was going crazy trying to write down in my notes all of the gems he was saying. The specific way he articulated everything so clearly, and also the incredibly positive and wise message behind the anecdotes.
He talked about growing up in a small village, where he felt very removed from the things he dreamed about: fashion and film. As he grew up and went to fashion school he was an outsider, not from a chic locale. As he made friends, he felt like an outsider, the only male with a girlfriend in a largely gay peer group. Once he began in fashion, he still felt like an outsider, working in Rome for Fendi… not in Paris, Milan or any other fashion capital. Initially he felt this put him at a disadvantage but later learned:
being an outsider makes you think in a different way. value that insight and appreciate the way you as an individual think and see the world.
My heart felt so full as he talked about this. Growing up I thought the only way I could ever fulfill a love for fashion was to become a model or work for one of the powerhouse fashion magazines. That fashion really had no place in my life, or the life I saw myself having. As I grew, fashion, certainly not any out there fashion, was not accepted or “cool” in high school or college. Dressing options were to be myself, and be ostracized, or to dress for others and feel more in costume than even my wackiest ideas. Once I was a single mom, or working in finance again/still fashion had no “place” in my life. It took me a long time to realize that fashion WAS a part of my life - I just had to give myself the permission and space to be there. I love the quote “life is a party - dress for it”. Often the pieces and ensembles I wear aren’t necessarily mainstream or what someone else would wear but they are what I want to wear that day, in that place, to express myself. So many of the paths I have taken in life, by choice or by floating along (not my recommendation - just the truth - sometimes we don’t make an active choice and end up floating), have led me to feeling like an outsider… however, when I quite my anxieties and fears, I can see the beauty in having a different experience, a different perspective, a different story to share.
“when you are a kid, maybe this is not so good, but when you grow up, you understand that this is going to be your strength, not to think in groups, but to think alone.”
He then shared that as he went to Valentino and worked his way up that this viewpoint was magnified by none other than Mr. Valentino himself. He said Valentino never questioned his judgement, or tried to control his design process.
That Valentino truly espoused the notion that someone with a good team is made better, not overshadowed, by those they work with. Having a team that shines elevates you, not takes away from your glory.
After being asked to helm the line, Pierpaolo shared that he felt concerns. He couldn’t have been anymore different from Valentino. In personality, lifestyle etc. He said as he shared this feeling, and the accompanying worries of inadequacy that Valentino told him:
THe way you got here was good enough to get you here. It is good enough to be here. Stay that way.
He credits this talk with Valentino as the foundation of his courage as he stepped into this role. It helped him to tap into his unique pathway to fashion stardom, keeping all he learned and loved close and to remember not to get caught up in the circus of fashion. He says his critics say he keeps too low a profile; Pierpaolo says it isn’t so much a low profile, as HIS profile.
His calm but strong demeanor in being himself, and true to himself, even as the successor to maybe one of the most well known men in fashion was such a motivating lesson for me. How often do we aspire to be our mentors rather than finding ways to be ourselves with input from those we admire? His resolute decisions to stay in his home, in his village, and yet successfully run one of the most major fashion houses shows how needed individuals are. There is no ONE way to do something, even if it worked for Valentino himself previously. There is room for all of us, in all the differing ways we think and work, to make a way. He said he loved working for Fendi in their Rome offices as it taught him never to compete. In Rome he says, everything is beautiful. The art is all around. You can walk into any church, any old building and the artwork, the architecture and the spirit of beauty is there. This teaches Romans not to feel competitive. Everyone can create, and everyone can appreciate.
I was I had just transcribed the whole discussion. I will share one last thought that stuck with me for days (I guess exactly a week now). Pierpaolo was working on a couture collection. Let me interject here… if you don’t know:
is the creation of exclusive, custom fitted clothing. Haute couture is high end fashion that is constructed from scratch, totally by hand from start to finish. pieces are made with high quality, expensive, often unusual fabrics and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most expert and capable sewers, usually with time consuming, hand executed techniques and finishes.
So back to Pierpaolo… he was working on a couture collection and remembered some dresses he had seen a photograph of. He began to design his new pieces around his memory of these four gorgeous dresses. He sketched and started to work. He went to the Valentino archives
“I asked to see the pieces because i wanted to touch them. and when i saw them, they were not at all as in my imagination. they were more heavy, they were more structured. i decided in that moment that i was not going to go back and see the archive, just to keep the pictures i have in my mind… i like to think about the past but not to see the past. i feel that your eyes change what you are going to see, because you put your imagination on something.”
I loved how full circle this came. He had grown as a designer through his experiences and his imagination, while learning from others. He had been told that he was good enough. And now he felt it himself. He loved the old archived gowns, but it was his imagination, the way he remembered their vibe, their feel, their importance to him as a child that he wanted to act on. He said
‘COuture is the dream. and there is no time frame for a dream.”
I have never felt more inspired to act for myself as myself, to believe in my own dreams, and the specific to me ways I come up with to achieve and live them.
I also found all of his opinions on making the house of Valentino more inclusive. His social commentary on beauty being beauty was wonderful.
“For me, beauty is not related to physucal attributes- for me, beauty is about grace… beauty is not about being one way, its about uniqueness. individualism is the only link between all the beauties i like.”
This was the first, and best panel of the day. I have spoken about the experiences and stories he told to anyone who will listen. I have always been a fan of Valentino and the way their pieces use color, patterns and old world couture techniques (and that they fit me fantastically) but after hearing from their new creative director and adoring him so much as a person and an example I am even more a fan!