Valentino Paris Fashion Week F/W 2015

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli are good sports—they allowed their final model to be yanked offstage by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson so they could stage their ridiculously good-looking Zoolander 2 walk-off. But back to the Italian duo. This season, their collection touched on many of the things that we’ve got our eye on over the past four weeks of shows: a sense of dark, velvety Victoriana, a whiff of the free-floating seventies, an underlying suggestion of erotic strictness. Nuns included. The designers summed it up in a preview: “We think you should be free to be who you are.”

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On the runway, they spelled all this out in a collection which quietly captured an entire Valentino spectrum: practical to pretty, elaborate to dead simple—and most of it in black and white. You have to use old-fashioned words to describe this: refined, exquisite, restrained, poised, elegant—and so on. But these are new-fashioned results, for women of many ages and nations.

From where does all this emanate—apart from Rome, where these two conduct the oldest and most finely tuned orchestra of couture skills in Italy? Chiuri and Piccioli always start by explaining their collections as being inspired by muses. This time, the muses were muses; two women who were each fabric and fashion designers in their own right. Emilie Louise Flöge lived and worked as a textile designer and dressmaker in turn-of-the-century Vienna, was both a lover of Gustav Klimt and one of those unforgettable faces painted by him. Celia Birtwell, also a print designer, collaborated with her late husband Ossie Clark in London’s swinging seventies—and was famously painted by David Hockney. Birtwell was at the show—she’d designed the schematic blue and red poppies that appeared near its end. In their research, Chiuri and Piccioli found parallels between the two-tone checkerboard and triangle patterns used by both artists: the source of the bold stripes and geometric engineered into their opening looks.

Nevertheless, that information doesn’t fully explain the variety and beauty here. All you need is eyes to see.​