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Behind the scenes with the Valentino design team


From sending Hollywood stars down its catwalk to the opening of a new flagship store in Rome, Valentino has a new lease of life, says Harriet Quick

Harriet Quick portrait
Harriet Quick ,

Sometimes a city belongs to a fashion house and right now Valentino can rightly stake a claim to Rome. The fabled city that has bewitched designers, architects, filmmakers and creators through the centuries is home to Valentino’s monumental new flagship store and headquarters, located on Piazza di Spagna, next to the 16th-century Palazzo Mignanelli. The piazza and its famous Spanish Steps are steeped in history and the Fontana della Barcaccia at the foot of the steps is the work of sculptor Pietro Bernini and his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Last July, Valentino’s joint creative directors Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri celebrated their leadership and showcased the couture collection with a magical party. ‘We are the second generation of fashion,’ says Piccioli. Both he and Chiuri, who were appointed in 2008, live close to Rome with their respective families. ‘The big egos are of a different generation. I think our generation thinks more about women and style: we don’t want to be celebrities ourselves but we love the work of fashion, creating the show, the message, the music, the space and the girls. Working together on this is fascinating. Having two points of view makes the vision more interesting and maybe more complex.’

Although the party’s spectacular fireworks and catwalk show have passed, the store, designed by David Chipperfield Architects, promises to captivate well into the future. This three-storey, 1,470-square-metre space, clad in grey Venetian terrazzo, timber and leather, with polished columns and striking single-drop lighting, emanates that hard-to-achieve combination monumental presence and grace. The stripped-back environment allows the cool, romantic DNA of the modern Valentino brand to shine through. Men can even have jeans made to measure.

Over the past ten years, Piccioli and Chiuri, who were formerly employed as heads of accessories at the brand, have been working away to rejuvenate Valentino and reinterpret the glamour and passion that made founder Valentino Garavani, who retired in 2007, a household name.

The path they’ve chosen is a finely tuned balance of artisanal techniques, modern wearability (some dresses even have pockets!) and a dreamy, insouciant attitude. You can see it in the long, poetic feather, lace and patchwork dresses they have made their trademark, in the stud rivets that adorn their bestselling heels, in the cool camouflage sneakers and the 3D embroidered floral handbags (made in collaboration with print legend Celia Birtwell), and in the butterfly prints that flit over spring/summer’s menswear pieces.

‘We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, it’s important to create a style for now,’ says Chiuri. ‘And we need to dream – dreams show optimism, the promise of change, however difficult that might be.’

It’s an image that is winning fans the world over; not only women – Keira Knightley, Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo are some of Valentino’s many famous devotees – but also men. At the Paris autumn/winter 2015 ready-to-wear collections, Valentino stole the show when actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson strode down the catwalk for the finale wearing shades of blue silk and denim in their Zoolander roles of Derek Zoolander and Hansel. The injection of wit into the serious world of luxury proved infectious. The moment created a barrage of social media (Valentino’s Instagram followers number over three million) and brilliantly announced the return of Wilson and Stiller in Zoolander 2, slated for release in early 2016. Scenes for the film have been shot in Valentino’s Rome atelier.

Behind the scenes, CEO Stefano Sassi is engineering a buoyant future for the house under its new owner, Mayhoola for Investments, a Qatari-based investment fund that acquired Valentino for a reputed €700m in 2012. Sassi praises Chiuri and Piccioli’s clarity of vision and their skillful mix of the ‘informal and formal.’

Rome is experiencing a cultural renaissance, as new designers such as Marco de Vincenzo and Stella Jean and artists such as Frieze star Gabriele de Santis rise through the maelstrom of tough economic times. This makes it an even more enticing city to visit. And all you need to fully immerse yourself in the new Valentino world and allow the design to work its magic is a little time to daydream.

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