The Valentino Des Ateliers Haute Couture Presentation Reminds of the Ineffable Beauty of Venice

In the years before Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797, it is said that the city leaders would purposefully take all visiting possible adversaries to tour their formidable Arsenale, to edify them on just what awaited should they ever have designs on attacking La Serenissima by sea (which was really the only way to attack Venice, obviously). Alas, it all wasn’t enough in the end to hold back the assault of his French Emperorship, as history tells us. And now that the once great Republic is mostly a tourist attraction (albeit a gloriously ineffable one), the Arsenale di Venezia is currently being used jointly as the headquarters for the city’s MOSE Project flood defense system, and for hosting high-profile art events during the Biennale.

But fashion came to the Arsenale this month, with the Valentino Des Ateliers Haute Couture presentation taking place July 16 at the Gaggiandre. For the collection itself, Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli – who has since 2008 been moving the exalted Italian fashion house in a decidedly more youthful direction – looked to the contemporary art community for inspiration, choosing more than a dozen artists to act as collective muse. So pieces drew aesthetic influence from the likes of Anastasia Bay, Maurizio Cilli, Danilo Correale, Luca Coser, Benni Bosetto, Katrin Bremermann, Guglielmo Castelli, Malte Zenses, Francis Offman and British trans artist Jamie Nares (now working in New York), who enthused to Artnet that, “Tears came to the eyes of [Vogue editor] Hamish Bowles at the end of the show.”

One might reasonably guess that this project could actually be signaling a whole new way forward, a new working methodology for Piccioli and Valentino.

In regards to both the clothes and the presentation, Turin based writer and curator Gianluigi Ricuperati acted as creative impresario – with consultation from German artist Kerstin Brätsch – first assembling a list of sixty artists, from which Piccioli chose the final sixteen. Ricuperati has actually written about how fashion could play a greater role in the nurturing of culture in contemporary society – a notion that dates at least back to Coco Chanel, and something that her namesake fashion house still actively cultivates.

Though he is quick to clarify, “Fashion is not ‘art,’ because the latter has no purpose outside of itself, while the first always has a practical scope, a function, a use. Acknowledging differences is the first step in educating ourselves towards a mutual listening, made of curiosity, enthusiasm and respect. This listening needs time, just like Haute Couture and at the end of the day like art.”

Ultimately, the show at the Gaggiandre was characterized by something of a meditative quality, as models ambled the awesome 16th Century industrial structure with a tranquil sort of deliberateness. Brit songstress Cosima – whose voice and music hauntingly echo Sade – stood beside her pianist accompanist, both almost jutting out over the lagoon, providing the visceral, and at times utterly shiver-inducing soundtrack.

Venice, whose economy for better and sometimes for worse relies on a constant stream of visitors, was of course devastated by the pandemic lockdowns. But Valentino’s exquisitely beautiful production definitively reminds of her fragile eternalness – and gives every indication that she would soon make a resplendent recovery.

Or as Piccioli so enthusiastically states it, “Venice was part of the vision I had from the very beginning: it was the only place in the world in which to present such a collection, a context where nothing can be added or subtracted: the light and power of Venice are the perfect setting in which I’d love to immerse my work.”

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