Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Legacy at Valentino: Everyday Grandeur and All Ages Red Carpets

The news broken by WWD Friday that Pierpaolo Piccioli would be leaving Valentino just days after Dries Van Noten revealed his retirement was a one-two punch for fashion.

While they are leaving under different circumstances, the developments certainly feel like a changing of the guard — and of priorities — in luxury.

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What was Piccioli’s influence? To me, he ushered a grand simplicity into fashion, along with a remarkable sense of color, mega volumes and drama, of course. He also brought a new modesty to the red carpet, offering women options beyond the low-cut, high-slit, nearly nude looks that have traditionally dominated.

I remember his first Valentino show as a solo act for fall 2017. Everyone doubted whether or not he could keep the house going alone following his eight-year design partnership with Maria Grazia Chiuri after she left to become creative director of women’s collections at Dior.

He proved he was up for the task, bringing Valentino down to earth by ditching a lot of the excess ornamentation that had defined it during the era he was designing with Chiuri, and establishing a modern ease with daywear as a strong focus.

One of the most memorable pieces from that season wasn’t a ravishing evening gown, dripping with embroidery — it was a pink pile fabric coat with a raw-edged hem, worn with slouchy pale pink satin trousers and flat sandals. It was a breath of fresh air.

Valentino RTW Spring 2017
Valentino, spring 2017

The divergence of Piccioli at Valentino and Chiuri at Dior was fascinating to watch and telling of where the industry was headed, with Chiuri going down a path of retreading Dior classics and bestselling silhouettes to extraordinary commercial success backed by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and Piccioli trying to stay true to pure design and effortless beauty rooted in the Rome-based house, even as he dabbled in streetwear with Vltn, and eventually, it would seem, running out of support from his bosses at Mayhoola and Kering, which acquired 30 percent of Valentino last year.

“Easy doesn’t have to be boring” was something Van Noten liked to say in recent years about his collections. But Piccioli played a key role in the rise of the trend of everyday grandeur, bringing casual pieces to couture and a couture feeling to casual pieces by giving simple white shirts and shorts as much glamour as a ballgown, for example.

His spring 2018 couture collection was a bellwether, starting with the opening look — a puffy yellow faille coat with crisp tan trousers, a white tank and a wonderfully wacky ostrich feather hat by London milliner Philip Treacy. That season was a masterclass in elegant ease that I still see reverberations of in today’s collections (Van Noten’s, too, actually) with a dramatic, side-swept faille ruffle top over paper-bag waist trousers, a ’60s bow waist tunic or opera coats over crisp pleated front pants proving that, yes, easy doesn’t have to be boring. (The coat was a shape Piccioli returned to again and again, notably for Lily Gladstone’s Golden Globes look.)

Model on the catwalk
Valentino spring 2018 couture
Model on the catwalk
Valentino spring 2018 couture
Model on the catwalk
Valentino spring 2018 couture

The feather headpieces made a splash, and feathers became a signature for Piccioli from then on. It strikes me that a big reason why we see marabou feather trim on shirts at J. Crew is because of Piccioli. He started using them in a casual way in his spring 2019 collection, and all of a sudden feathers were on everything.

Valentino RTW Spring 2019
Valentino, spring 2019

His sense of color and lyrical simplicity also had an impact on the red carpet. Sure, he dressed Zendaya and Florence Pugh, but his looks for more mature women in particular stuck with me because they defied the usual tropes of baring skin, or covering it all up in spangles. (Dowdy is not a word you’d associate with them, though sometimes that did come to mind with Garavani’s red carpet looks.)

Piccioli was early to the power and value of dressing older women, casting then 75-year-old Lauren Hutton in his fall 2019 couture show.

Valentino Haute Couture Fall 2019
Valentino haute couture fall 2019

Diversity and inclusion were values he reflected upon on the Valentino runways. After a misstep in spring 2016, when he and Chiuri took a cultural tour through “wild Africa” with few Black models, for spring 2019 he cast a then-record number — 43 out of 65 total — for a collection reimagining the famously white 1948 Cecil Beaton photo of Charles James couture. He included all-size models in his spring 2022 couture collection and championed age diversity again in his fall 2022 collection.

Model on the catwalk
Valentino couture spring 2019

Piccioli also brought those values to the red carpet.

His look for Frances McDormand at the 2018 Met Gala (and the video posted by Vogue of her dancing with Piccioli) will go down in history for me as a watershed for later-in-life confidence. The Oscar-winning actress was 60 at the time. She rocked the show-stopping turquoise cape and Treacy feather headdress from the spring couture runway, and cherished wearing it so much she said she wanted to be buried in it. Isn’t that what we all dream of finding in fashion?

She also chose spring 2019 Valentino couture for the Oscars, a pink faille short-sleeve gown paired with Valentino acid yellow Birkenstocks, a footwear collaboration that helped to kick off the haute Birkenstock trend.

Frances McDormand at the 2019 Oscars
Frances McDormand at the 2019 Oscars.

It’s no wonder, for her very first Met Gala in 2022, Glenn Close, then 75, also looked to Valentino, choosing a hot pink embroidered cape and pants look from Piccioli’s color-forward spring 2022 collection, in PP Pink, that served major diva-dom.

Viola Davis turned to Valentino for a show-stopping white feather cape and gown to wear to the “Monster” premiere at the Cannes Film Festival just last year, writing on Instagram, “Felt like a queen.” And Meryl Streep was the picture of elegant ease in Piccioli’s Valentino feather-trimmed white evening pajamas at this year’s Oscars, after wearing a very Miranda Priestley-looking custom black sequin skirt suit for the Golden Globes.

His designs for older women on the red carpet were unique in that they were romantic without being girlish, decorative without being bogged down and generous enough that they didn’t look like one had to squeeze into Spanx to fit in them. Piccioli made the red carpet look easy — and joyful. He will be missed.

Launch Gallery: How Pierpaolo Piccioli Changed the Red Carpet By Dressing Actresses of All Ages in Valentino

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