Upon seeing some of the first images of Valentino's A/W 2015 collection portraying black and white striped designs, people with an architectural frame of mind would immediately start thinking about the black and white motifs adorning Medieval churches in the North of Italy.
Other architecture fans may instead think about Adolf Loos' unbuilt house for Josephine Baker or make connections with Mario Botta's polychrome designs for the Church of St John the Baptist in Vallemaggia. Yet Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli had something else - or rather someone else - on their mind.
The black and white stripes and triangles that decorated the first looks in the collection were indeed borrowed from textile and fashion designer Emilie Louise Flöge, lover and muse of Gustav Klimt.
Stripes have always been used by artists and architects to exaggerate the dimensions of a surface or figure, to create optical illusions and morph the appearance of a surface.
Horizontal stripes exaggerate width, while vertical ones elongate the height, but in the case of Valentino's designs, they were employed as decorative patterns that more simply clarified the forms and silhouettes, besides they weren't charged with the negative meanings that striped fabrics had in the Medieval period (see Michel Pastoureau's volume The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes). In other garments the striped motif was interpreted as patent inserts on leather dresses and macs.
There was also a second muse, British textile and fashion designer Celia Birtwell, wife of the late Ossie Clark, and muse to painter David Hockney. Birtwell collaborated with Chiuri and Piccioli on Valentino's Pre-Fall 2015 collection and designed for this collection a print of delicate flowers, the butterflies rendered in metallic thread and a dragon motif on a sweater and on a black trapeze dress.
The two muses - icons of sensuality and independence and symbols of multifaceted women - gave a dichotomic rhythm to this collection suspended between reality and dream that featured not just black and white patterned dresses or skirts matched with thick sweaters, but also lacy dresses in burgundy, pink and yellow, tailored coats, leather capes, and pieces that pointed towards Haute Couture, such as densely embroidered floor-sweeping tunics with animal motifs or with gold and silver thread work in Viennese patterns, patchwork furs and a multicoloured satin coat slightly reminiscent of Schiaparelli's 1939 Harlequin coat.
One problem with the Flöge-inspired designs, though, was that they seemed to be reassembled versions of her own dresses, recreated with a modern and dynamic woman in mind. Besides, Chiuri and Piccioli have found an elegant and stylish monastic silhouette in their loose and flowing yet austere and bold high waist Medieval tunics that they originally borrowed from Maria Callas' costumes in Pasolini's Medea, and they are so comfortable with it that they don't seem to be able to let it go yet, and this may add a bit of predictability to their otherwise pretty and refined collections.
For this time, though, the predictability factor was eliminated by a peculiar distraction: at the very end of the show actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson - the former clad in a dark blue suit embroidered with butterflies, the latter in a silk pyjama with vintage prints of romantic Spanish couples dancing - who walked the runway as Derek and Hansel out of Zoolander while the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" played in the background.
The actors are currently shooting Zoolander 2 in Rome, where the house of Valentino was originally founded, and the walk was an official announcement of the film sequel, due in 2016.
This wasn't one of those gatecrashing moments à la Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno (see his appearance in 2008 on Agatha Ruiz de la Prada's runway), but everything was perfectly staged. David Bowie may have not been there to judge their walking style and pose, but Anna Wintour was filmed talking to them in the backstage, Vogue US got the exclusive and guests - as you may expect - went wild quickly raising their phones in the air to capture the moment on camera.
You would have smiled and approved Chiuri and Piccioli for allowing the disruption to take place in their show and laugh at themselves, if it hadn't all been meticulously prepared, the final proof that the fashion industry basks in the glory of a film that takes the piss out of it, rather than being annoyed at it.
So, who knows, maybe the next Zoolander will include bits and pieces of this show and a cameo role for Anna Wintour. One thing is for certain: the fashion industry fights new commercial battles in the social media ground and stylish technology inspires and rules the life of many designers, so we may be able to see Derek and Hansel finally relating to computers and emails in a less primitive way than they did in the first film.
These stunts in the meantime should make us think: in the '20s Patou rearranged his shows and made sure that the press sat among celebrities as a form of flattery and as a way to encourage positive reviews. Today this doesn't seem to be enough (there were maybe enough memorable clothes on this runway, but time will tell if we will remember them or this unique final performance...), but designers are in desperate need of a catwalk stunt to encourage positive vibes (and Derek giving us the "Magnum" and the "Blue Steel" seemed to be a perfect one...) in an industry that is slowly yet relentlessly losing touch with reality to wade into the impossibility of a dream.
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