5 Things to know about Valentino's purified-grandeur AW23 Haute Couture show at Chateau De Chantilly

By Anders Christian Madsen

Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

For the Valentino autumn/winter 2023 couture show, Pierpaolo Piccioli used Chateau de Chantilly as a majestic backdrop with models walking through the gardens in crystals and capes. Despite the regal location, the designer says this is “probably the less princess-y collection I’ve ever done.” Below, Vogue critic Anders Christian Madsen shares his key takeaways from the show.


Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

The show took place at Chateau de Chantilly

The car ride to a castle is part of the experience: the gradual landscape change from simplicity to majesty as domes and turrets begin to tower on the horizon. That expectancy, and all the grandeur it triggers in the mind, were the reasons Pierpaolo Piccioli asked his guests to make the trek from Paris to Chateau de Chantilly for this season’s Valentino haute couture show. Why? Because he wanted to disrupt those expectations. Presented around the chateau’s panoramic fountain, the collection staged a code-switch of epic proportions. With the Renaissance revival building as its backdrop, it gave the signifiers of pomp and circumstance the Valentino treatment: riff on the codes but shift up the values.


Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

It opened with jeans and white shirt

“I wanted to go back to the Valentino idea of the castle but to use it simply as a place. As a no-place, actually: an idea of freedom and purity and simplicity. A sense of equality in a place where there’s always been rules,” Piccioli said during a preview. “I wanted to take away all the meanings of the castle and just give it humanity.” Kaia Gerber opened the show in a pair of jeans and a white shirt. Not really, of course – they were fully micro-crystal-encrusted denim trousers and the shirt a sculpted work of art, weeks and weeks in the making. The idea was echoed in a pair of collectors-edition Levi’s jeans from 1966 that Piccioli had bedecked with gilded Napoleonic bullion embroidery and styled with the couture version of white tank top.


Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

Dresses were imbued with movement

The jeans and tops got the show off to an audaciously casual start – after all, Mesdames, this was Chantilly! – but what followed represented a more illustrative take on his philosophy. Dresses, capes and coats majestic in volume had been reduced to their purest form, their construction imbued with ideas of movement. “I wanted to catch the lightness of the moment. Sometimes when you take a picture, it’s never as light as when it moves. I wanted to freeze the movement in sort of gestures. The constructions are incredible but you won’t see it. They look super simple,” Piccioli explained. Some dresses were suspended from the body in imitations of the way a garment collapses on the body throughout an evening; others had hints of shrugs worked into their architecture.


Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

It reconstructed and contemporised majestic codes

With a highly emotive soundtrack by Anohni wailing through the Chantilly gardens (including the rather naughty Cripple and the Starfish, depending on lyrical interpretation), the show constantly fluctuated between the ceremonial and the casual. In motifs and surface decoration, Piccioli reduced the idea of majestic patterns and embroideries to a memory of their regal glory, purifying and simplifying their expression to a contemporary state. A queenly ermine cape became a modern-day stole recreated in white faux fur with specks of black plume. The noble court shoe transformed into flats with massive bows. A tiara grew into the hair of a model and took full crystal-wig form, and the diamond rings of the monarch morphed into crystal fingernails.


Photo: Courtesy of Valentino

It was a new mood for Valentino

“It’s un chateau rather than the chateau,” Piccioli pointed out. “It becomes an abstract space where it’s more about stones, minerals, textures and the simplicity of the collection. It’s probably the less princess-y collection I’ve ever done. It’s majestic in a different way. It’s about balancing ideas: purity and simplicity.” Masterfully executed, his newfound sense of reduction felt like a breath of fresh air for Valentino. Statuesque, noble and dignified, it hit all the right notes of the Roman house but infused that ethos with the modernity and contemporary chic in which Piccioli excels. In a fashion climate obsessed with a new sense of elegance and sophistication, the collection both captured a zeitgeist and raised its stakes.

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