Photo: Valentino

A conversation with Pierpaolo Piccioli is not unlike a crash course in the history of Western civilization. For the duration of the discussion, the Valentino designer moves in rapid succession, touching on a wide array of subjects, from Nietzsche and Zandra Rhodes, the pink-haired British fashion designer of the ’70s, to humanism and Hieronymus Bosch’s 15th-century sin-obsessed triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The common thread in this particular discourse: All informed the house’s outstanding spring collection, Piccioli’s first as sole creative director since his partner, Maria Grazia Chiuri, left last July to become the artistic director of Dior.

“The moment I was starting the collection was a moment of change,” Piccioli says. “I thought back to [cultural periods] of change: the end of the Middle Ages, the beginning of the Renaissance, and even the time between the late 1970s and early ’80s.”

Related article: Fashion In Review: Balenciaga and Valentino SS17 Was Full of Surprises

Chiuri’s departure marked the close of one of the modern era’s longest and most successful design partnerships, spanning three decades; the duo had been together at Fendi for a decade before working side by side at Valentino for 17 years. With Spring 2017, Piccioli began anew, fine-tuning a fresh vision for the historic house that was strictly his.

“I started the collection just thinking about myself,” he says. “Being alone is very different; everything was more emotional. I had to go deeper into my own identity. That is the real difference. I did not want to deliver just another collection — I wanted to deliver a manifesto collection.”

“Being alone is very different; everything was more emotional.”

And so he did. In light-streaked salons at Paris’s Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Piccioli sent out a parade of exquisitely crafted fairy-tale-like looks, many in vibrant shades of pink, that struck a perfect balance between delicate and strong, personal and universal.

The collection matches old with new, taking its cue from Renaissance art—specifically, The Garden of Earthly Delights. He enlisted Rhodes to collaborate on original prints and dreamy doodles based on the painting, which adorn gowns and coats alike. In addition to the couture-inspired eveningwear that has come to be synonymous with the house, Piccioli has introduced more casual, though still impeccably tailored, daywear: patterned wide-legged trousers, crisp button-downs, leather peacoats.

Without Chiuri, Piccioli admits, “I felt more naked,” but he says the experience was an invaluable one, forcing him to delve into his creative reserves. “Now, when everything is so global, it’s very important to be faithful to your identity, to sit down and see what is interesting [about yourself]. Otherwise you are generic.”

Related article: Breaking: Maria Grazia Chiuri Exits Valentino 

Which brings the story back to the Renaissance. “I wanted to go back to my aesthetic roots,” he explains. “I am very Italian in culture, and my roots are close to the Italian Renaissance. … I liked the idea of this freedom, [and] I wanted to get a connection between the past and the future. I asked Zandra Rhodes to redesign Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights because I wanted to get the feeling of freedom and romanticism. I wanted the people attending the show to feel the same emotions I had.”

Despite his design stardom, there is another part of Piccioli’s life that is of equal, if not greater, importance: his wife and three children. “You can only do this job with a family if they really support you and believe in you,” he says. “I see myself not as a creative director but as a dad for my kids and a husband for my wife, and they don’t see me as a creative director. I’m always the same guy. It is crucial to have people love you without condition, not because of what you do but because of who you are. My little daughter will see people stop me and she’ll ask, ‘Why do they want photos with you?’ I love that.”

Photo: Erik Madigan Heck

Related article: Valentino Launches Two New Short Films Dedicated To New York

Besides his family, Piccioli boasts one of the most devoted followings in fashion, with the likes of Hailee Steinfeld, Jessica Alba, Diane Kruger, Shailene Woodley, Dakota Fanning, and Lily Collins (all of whom sat front row for his debut) among his biggest fans. “If you are authentic with the relationship, and are real friends, they support you just because they love you and you love them,” Piccioli says when asked about his starry admirers. “It is about life and not about work. I have to say that if you respect people, it is true what you get back. It is about being close and sharing the same values.”

That fan base is bound to expand as Piccioli continues to unveil his solo vision for Valentino. “You have to re-create the picture you have in your mind with the location, with the space, everything,” he says. “It’s important to dream, and to allow people into your dream.”

Models: Hoyeon, Sasha Kichigina, Lululeika Ravn Liep, Bara Podzimkova, and Wallette Watson; Hair: Jordan M for Bumble and Bumble; Makeup: Pat McGrath Labs; Manicures: Gina Edwards for Chanel Beauty; Prop Styling: Andrea Huelse.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US