Simplicity’ and ‘Paradoxes’ were the two conceptual drivers framing Pierpaolo Piccioli’s haute couture collection, held on the grand grounds of the Château de Chantilly. “Simplicity is complexity resolved,” he said at the press conference, quoting artist Constantin Brancusi, whose sculptures are the modernist epitome of absolute purity. Piccioli called the show “Un Château.” “It’s somehow paradoxical to show in an historical site that I believe is a metaphor for status and power, a symbolism that has to be questioned and re-contextualized,” he said.

Staging the couture défilé en plein air, out of the Château’s regal interiors, was Piccioli’s way of visually performing the metaphor of freeing the constrictions of a walled, elitist life, opening up the seclusion of privilege—Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Models walked around one of the castle’s vast parterres à la Francaise; the catwalk sneaked around a circular bassin d’eau, leaving in the background the elegant silhouette of the 17th century manor. A perfect sunset; a light breeze; the lyric, transporting voice of Anohni on the soundtrack—it seemed that the stars were aligned to infuse the spirit of the place with some magic.

One of the paradoxes of couture is that it’s a craft wrongly synonymous with redundant complexity. Piccioli, whose hyper-skilled atelier can bring to life even the most maddeningly elaborate artifacts, believes on the contrary that the essence of couture is profoundly simple. He made the case for this by showing a collection devoid of pyrotechnics, superfluous gimmicks and crowd-pleasing distractions. It was simplicity at its most masterful, a celebration of imaginative, extravagant clarity. “It’s all about concealing the effort that achieving simplicity requires,” he said.

Draping, one of the most challenging haute couture constructions, infused the gesture-defining vertical, pure, essential silhouettes with vitality, modernity, and with the impact of the sophisticated caprice so inherent to Valentino’s aesthetic. Column dresses and tunics were treated to deceptively simple bias-cutting and soft-draping techniques, making them lean sensuously on the body; hooded capes became “mantles of modern Madonnas,” bodices with skin-baring cut-outs extended into twisted knots framing the face. What Piccioli wanted to achieve, he explained, was an effect of almost no gravity. A handsome white dress in featherlight, velvety cashmere (he called it “just a rectangular T-shirt”) with an asymmetrical trailing hem at the back was made on the bias with just one cut. A white tunic in heavenly soft velvet was draped in a way as “to freeze the spontaneous motion of the dress in a sort of still image.”

Inventive paradoxes abounded throughout the collection, one of the most striking being the opening look on Kaia Gerber. A pair of slouchy jeans reprised from classic vintage Levi’s were actually made of silk gazar, entirely embroidered with tiny pearlescent beads dyed in 80 hues of indigo to reproduce an actual denim texture. Worn with an immaculate oversized masculine white shirt, gold flat slippers and dangling rhinestone chandelier earrings, they were a handsome example of what Piccioli called “a simply paradoxical trompe-l’oeil.” The same approach was echoed in a billowy trapeze-shaped gown, whose circular feathered ruffles were made from  500 feet of white organza. To make the feathers even more featherlight and preternaturally weightless, they were burned one by one to achieve the right quivering cadence. An apparently impossible mission, but not for the formidable Valentino atelier. “We know, we’re crazy,” said Piccioli. He was only half-joking.

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