Valentino AW21 Couture: Des ateliers of fashion and art


By Kelly Lim

Valentino AW21 Couture: Des ateliers of fashion and art

Listen… The soft background chatter of white-clad guests. Water in the lagoon rippling gently with the wind. A suspenseful piano progression as British singer Cosima stepped out in a black opera gown.

The show began with a call to listen that was aided by the installation of Giuseppe Penone’s idee di pietra – olmo, an elm tree cradling a heavy stone emerging out of the waters in observation of the runway before it. Curated for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, the work of art invited a moment of reflection on what listening to the planet, to each other and to ourselves can bring to inner and outer worlds.

The historic Gaggiandre of Venice served as the set for the show. 

As soon as Cosima’s mellifluous voice filled the air, the first look was out: an all-red ensemble composed of a taffeta mini with a massive feathered hat featuring tendrils that bounced in mid-air like a dancing jellyfish.

For Pierpaolo Piccioli, the sublime architectural setting of the Gaggiandre in Venice was the perfect place to frame his AW21 couture collection. The city of canals had always been a source of inspiration for its rich history and culture. A project inspired by the work of 17 contemporary artists, the new collection was a celebration of craftsmanship, collaboration and the unique touch of the hand informed by a symbiotic dialogue between fashion and art.

“Fashion is not ‘art’,” the designer explained. “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.”

Curated by Gianluigi Ricuperati, the international group of artists (who were mostly painters, since “painting is to art as haute couture is to fashion”) was invited to participate in a collective process of creativity and craft for the new collection. Inside the ateliers and through both live and remote encounters, the two sides worked in unison to allow art and fashion to coalesce in a common language. What transpired was a slew of magnificent pieces that interpreted the fusion of Piccioli’s Valentino with the artists and their individual works.

At the show, a range of silhouettes and fabrications—echoing hints of minimalism from Piccioli’s spring couture—were presented across a joyous gemstone palette. Fine pencil strokes manifested on pale satin dresses as subtle hand-stitching, while long and layered looks appeared in swathes of satin, crepe and cashmere that wrapped around the body in variations of capes over suits, swirling scarves and light flowing coats. Across men and women, diverse ensembles came in remixed combinations of styles and colours, bringing all the art it was inspired by, together and to life.

The more sculptural looks were short yet sweet; as bright fitting micros paired with opera gloves or bulbous creations stopping high above the knee in explosions of feather trims and twisting petals. The latter was most reminiscent of Joe S Allen’s intricate fibre sculptures, while artist James Nares’ gestural calligraphy was screen-printed in large on a red and white gown and cape that served as model Rianne Von Rompaey’s majestic closing look.

As the sun began to set, a striking slew of grand ballgowns came out in various vivid shades before the entire kaleidoscopic collection re-emerged for the final line-up. While Cosima belted out one last serenade, the models stopped before the lagoon, looking out towards the horizon as their reflections shone clear atop the water with a golden hour glare. Even across the screen, the beauty and emotion of the moment were palpable, and a masterpiece in itself.

What to expect and where to watch the show

Text: July 14 2021

It’s been one hell of a couture week in Paris but the shows aren’t over yet. Valentino is about to present its AW21 Haute Couture collection and this season, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli is bringing us to… Venice!

This week, the upcoming ‘Valentino Dés Ateliers’ show is set to take place at the historical landmark of Gaggiandre inside the Arsenale, the vast pre-industrial production centre that is now home to the headquarters of the Venice Biennale. A 15th-century shipyard of sorts, the Gaggiandre was attributed to Italian Renaissance sculptor Jacopo Sansovino and boasts a spacious internal dock that makes it an ideal backdrop for the couture unveiling on Friday. According to the house, Piccioli will be paying homage to the city of canals and its cultural panorama of creativity in which he finds constant inspiration.

Occurring at the same time is the 49th International Theatre Festival – Biennale Teatro 2021, which runs between July 2 to 11, and is also sponsored by Valentino. The entire project is a gesture of love that sees Piccioli contribute to the culture of a city he admires, in hopes of sustaining its liveliness. In respect to the history and culture of its location, the subsequent runway event will feature a functional-only set-up, without any architectural intervention to the natural frame of the space.


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That’s not all––the Maison will also be hosting the show through “a special pure white visual streaming kit that considers sustainability for every part of the process”, in the interest of creating value for both the community and the environment. The ISO 20121-certified process involves hand-crafted Italian materials that come from sustainably managed forest sources to help the brand forgo the use of plastic.


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Back in January, the Roman designer introduced an uncharacteristically pared-back couture collection that was a striking contrast to his past work and the setting of Rome’s opulent Palazzo Colonna. ‘Code Temporal’ was a pleasant surprise that offered the house’s first couture menswear, as well as a new palette of occasion wear that merged traditional Valentino codes with a futuristic sense of savoir-faire. It was a reset button for couture at the house––and in general––in its call for an update of classic rituals and processes, and opened a floodgate of possibilities for the future.

What possibilities will this season bring?

Edit: Missed the show? Watch it again below.

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