Month: June 2016

Maria Grazia Chiuri to Dior: A Bittersweet Split

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Hmmm, is the framing of this photo of Valentino Co-Creative Directors telling? Maria Grazia Chiurri is positioned in front of Pierpaolo Piccioli and staring up, while he looks squarely at the camera. If today’s news is any indicator, then yes, this 2015 photo might tease that Chiuri was considering moving on a over year ago. And that my art history classes paid off and that I paid attention to the body language episode of Tyra circa 2008.

In a completely stunning move, Dior appointed Maria Grazia Chiuri as its new creative director following the departure of Raf Simons earlier this year. Usually  whispers trickle around before an appointment, but that wasn’t the case with Chiuri—I stared at my email inbox completely agog with surprise when the news broke this morning.

Surprised I may be, but I am also delighted. Maria Grazia Chiuri is an incredible designer, and has co-created some of the most beautiful, intricate, and feminine pieces of ready-to-wear and couture humanly conceivable during her nine-year tenure at Valentino—pieces so simple in line yet opulent in fabric so as to make one gasp.

Chiuri will be brilliant at Dior; she understands the pressures and rigor of working at a mega-house, and is a near-perfect match in terms of aesthetics with her appreciation for simplicity and graceful femininity. Beyond the tulle and Roman richness, she also knows how to make money. Chiuri and Piccioli pioneered the incredibly commercially successful Valentino Rockstud accessory line, which, six years later, the public is still hungry for. She knows how to walk the fine line between accessibility and exclusivity, and realizes the importance of refreshing and building on cult items each season to maximize their relevance. Chiuri will also be Dior’s first female creative director in its 70 year history—ironic for a label whose image is so tied up in femininity.

As exciting as this news is, it’s not without a scoop of bitterness. I’m so sad to see this harmonious era of exquisite design and seamless execution of Valentino’s sensibilities come to an end. It never occurred to me that Chiuri was even being considered for this role because I figured that she and Piccioli were a package deal and firmly ensconced at Valentino for many years to come.Why did Dior pick only Chiuri and not the pair? Will Chiuri and Piccioli be any good without the other? Perhaps Dior execs had special insight into their creative process to be able to make that call. We will have to wait and see on these. But as to the question of whether or not Valentino is upset that his natural heir has chosen to go elsewhere, well, I think we have our answer from Giancarlo Giametti’s Instagram today. No one does Italian drama quite like Valentino!

 

 

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Valentino…Who?

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Imagine my surprise when I, a casual and unsuspecting reader, was flipping through this month’s Harper’s Bazaar trying to see how I could take snippets from Karl Lagerfeld’s interview with Kendall Jenner and parse them to look unflattering to her, saw instead a classic Terry Richardson Rockstud ad, which, instead of saying VALENTINO, read: Valentino Garavani.

Not quite a spit take-level of surprise, but it definitely resulted in a squinty “what?”

First it actually took me a minute to put together – what was Valentino’s last name, again? G…something? Not Giametti. I Googled and confirmed that Garavani was indeed the designer’s surname (although his Wikipedia article is simply under ‘Valentino.’) How utterly and completely bizarre, then, to see a kamikaze “Garavani” after all these years of a solo “Valentino.”

Why would Valentino change their advertising out of nowhere to use the last name of the founding designer? It’s like changing the name of Dolce & Gabanna to Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabanna. Or Prada to Miuccia Prada. Insane! If I, someone who thinks about Valentino on a regular basis can’t pull his last name from a murky corner of my mind, then there is a serious problem with this advertising. People less tuned-in to fashion will think there’s some cool new designer out there named Valentino Garavani. Oh dear.

I then plunged into some deep internet research, which assured me that Valentino is not changing their name, and that Valentino Garavani is a sub-label along the lines of Valentino Red, that encompasses most bags and shoes, including all Rockstud accessories.

The whole thing is still, however, immensely weird. Valentino is the only designer whose fashion house takes his first name, not his last name. We know most designers by their surnames – Armani, Chanel, Dior, etcetera – but we also know their first names – Giorgio, Coco, Christian. Valentino is more like Gucci in that it is, culturally, one word, like Madonna and Cher, and most definitely not Guccio Gucci or Valentino Garavani.

To introduce Valentino’s last name now, eight years after his retirement from the label is odd, but would be completely inexplicable if he were not still involved with the label and a mentor to his successors, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli – it’s quite an unprecedented arrangement, as most designers’ tenure at their own houses tend to be lifelong. The three collaborated in creating costumes for Sofia Coppola’s La Traviata, which premiered in Rome mid-May and is the best collaboration between designer and director since Tom Ford dressed everyone his own film. Valentino always sits front row for Chiuri and Piccioli’s shows, keeping his visual presence associated with his brand, and is nearly always out and about (including visiting my former place of work in May 2015, NEVER FORGET), indicating that he’s retired only from designing, and not the public eye or public psyche. When interviewed by the New York Times about La Traviata, he made sure to remind his interlocutor of his energy and enthusiasm for design: “I still have creativity inside…Tomorrow I could do a runway show of 100 dresses with no problem.” This almost sounded like a veiled threat – as if the label is still very much his, and he might at any time decide to re-take its helm. However, I would guess he is having more fun cruising around Capri, as documented on his and Giancarlo’s Instagrams this week, than creating six collections a year at 84.

Close readings of comments aside, I like the relationship that Valentino and Chiuri and Piccioli enjoy: they venerate him, while he trusts them with his life’s legacy. It’s not surprising, then, that they would name a secondary line for him; it just should have been executed differently. Perhaps “Garavani by Valentino” or somehow rebranding the Rockstud line as the “Garavani Rockstud.’ But neither of those has the same iconic look on the page or feel in the mouth – both are awkward to say and somehow anything extra dilutes the his iconic status. My best recommendation is to drop the “Garavani” and have Terry Richardson shoot Valentino, Giacomo and their pugs with Rockstud accessories. His face, his tan, his lifestyle are all iconic and instantly recognizable, even to an audience with only moderate interest in fashion, while his last name is not recognizable to anyone. We’ve been on a first-name basis with Valentino since 1960; let’s not change this intimate and simultaneously larger than life way of talking about him now.