Fashionista contributor Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt.
PARIS--In January 2009 at the historic lecture hall of the Sorbonne, newly-anointed designers Pier Paolo Piccoli and Maria Grazia Chuiri, personal protégés of Mr. Valentino, presented their spring Haute Couture collection. It was virtually immersed in the house codes and heritage, with little indication of their own voices. The road that Mr. Piccoli and Ms. Grazia Chuiri have traveled since at Valentino includes figuring out how to inject their own visions--drawn from their own experiences and observations--into clothes for a new generation. One of the most difficult jobs in fashion today is working at a once venerable institution currently in need of transformation.
In a quiet showing at the Halle Freyssinet--where the industrial depot was momentarily outfitted with camel colored cotton benches--the designers clearly embraced the foundations of Valentino. The first model, Julia Saner, came out in a khaki double-layered silk organza dress with black trims, ruffles sleeves, and black and white spotted embroidery. The procession that followed had all the Roman atelier’s trademark lacework: a sheer embroidered lace and organza jacket with black shorts; a light brown lace-stitched and floral-embroidered coat dress; an embroidered skirt with a lace tank and sheer chiffon cropped jacket.
While the evening wear was trapped in tradition, the designers moved forward with day wear. The light ivory, ruffle trimmed, double-breasted jacket with matching shorts will be a big seller come February. The three denim looks--a short sleeve ruffled front tank and front button skirt, a long sleeved dress, and another ruffle short suit--brought the Valentino heritage into actuality. I can see young women in these denim looks, even at more formal events.
Last season, a film montage created by the experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger was projected onto the walls built to contain the set. As images from old color films looped continuously overhead, it seemed the design duo were ready to venture into a different direction, albeit blessing the collection with an artistic feel reminiscent of the early years of Valentino. Then as now, I wished the designers would embrace their own instincts and worry less about abiding to what they think Mr. Valentino wants.
Yet sticking to the house’s heritage is not a bad thing for business. After all, retail is conservative, and too sudden of a change can cause serious upheavals in sales margins. Nevertheless, Mr. Piccoli and Ms. Grazia Chuiri should not longer feel bound so much by the intense history of Valentino, a point they have already proven they can easily master. They need to begin writing new chapters for the ongoing story of Valentino. Mr. Valentino himself, present at this show, stood up to clap for his chosen successors. Without a doubt, he would do the same if they took his story forward.