The Valentino pre-fall show in Tokyo ended on Tuesday evening the same way it began, with a parade of red dresses designed to create an obvious link between the house’s signature color and that of the circle of the sun symbolized on the Japanese flag.
Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino’s creative director, first came to Japan roughly 20 years ago, and the nation has held a fascination for him ever since, as it has for countless designers over the decades, even more so in recent years as they become attracted to a cultural philosophy and aesthetic that, while deeply traditional, seems markedly appealing in the context of today’s society. For Piccioli, the word that convinced him that Tokyo was the place to host his first pre-fall runway show was “ma,” meaning the space between two things, between two sentences, two cultures, two people in conversation, or, in this case, between Valentino and Japan.
“I have always been fascinated by the people and the culture of Japan, more than the surface,” he said before his show here, which was purposefully staged in a raw concrete warehouse space, rather than an elaborate or traditional venue. Piccioli wanted to make clear that his venture in Tokyo was not about exploiting an aesthetic, but communicating ideas, especially about contemporary Japanese fashion and how Japanese artists and designers view Valentino.
“For me, that was the only way to create a connection,” he said. “I didn’t want to take the images of Japan and treat them in a couture or Valentino way, but I wanted to bring the culture of Japan because it is close to my idea of beauty. For me beauty is about diversity, it is about individualism, and intimacy.”
In a lengthy collection, with much more daywear and variations of both casual streetwear and more avant-garde smock shapes, Piccioli flicked lightly at the aesthetics of Japan. The series of Valentino red dresses that opened the show, many of them ruffled, pleated, creased, gaping, loose, layered, quickly suggested a Japanese red, but also called to mind the giants of Japanese design today: Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake. The shoes included modern takes on combat boots, a motif of punk that has also strongly influenced pop culture in Tokyo, where clashes between tradition and experimentation create a constant sense of tension that is visible most clearly on the streets. Piccioli notes that clothing here (whether a kimono or Western suit or a Harajuku costume) is imbued with a strong, but sometimes subtle, sense of symbolism.
“In this moment, Japanese culture, which is close to identity of self-expression and intimacy, for me, it’s very modern,” Piccioli said. “If you don’t have an intimate relationship with the world, you don’t get emotions, and if you don’t get emotions, you don’t live.”
Following the red dresses were black dresses, also voluminous and creating a link between the school of modern Japanese fashion and that of early 20th century European style, specifically the slouching draped dresses of Madame Grès that have seemingly figured into Piccioli’s recent couture collections for Valentino. His pre-fall variations looked almost flattened by comparison, as if the big volumes had been pressed into tighter quarters, suggesting a movement away from the Valentino image of big gowns and toward one of contemporary streetwear. The latter were represented here in chic suitings made of denim and a collaboration with the artist Izumi Miyazaki, whose self-portraits appeared as photographs printed on sweatshirts and other items.
During the finale, as the red dresses reappeared, the runway was showered with red fabric rose petals, creating a cinematic climax that payed homage to the pageantry and embrace of nature in Japanese ornamentation and crafts, examples of which Piccioli has used to decorate Valentino’s Ginza store. It was important to him, he said, not to present a collection that referenced calligraphy or kimonos (though these remain in the Valentino vernacular), but rather to dig deeper beneath the surface.
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