An Italian brand showing an African-inspired collection in Paris can either be worldly, or a fashion-wide cringe. But that was the risk Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli took when they decided to steer Valentino in a completely opposite direction from last season's fiercely loyal ode to native Rome. This collection was about proving Valentino's versatility and worldly sophistication; Rome may play a key role in Valentino's identity, but Rome does not define Valentino. This show's inspiration was a step outside of their usual that could have easily resulted in both cultural appropriation and a loss of character. But the the lineup, to Valentino's credit, turned out to be nothing more than their usual sleek silhouettes, with the odd print or embellishment here and there. That in itself may, indeed, be cultural appropriation, but the sheer beauty in the clothes proved its righteous intent. (Though the cornrowed hair and spiky details may have been pushing it a bit.) Too Western to be considered "exotic," but with that same, other-worldly Valentino charm, this collection proved Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli's mastery at manipulating the Valentino philosophy to fit all environments.
Unlike Gucci or Christopher Kane, leaders in fashion today, I don't think of Valentino's aesthetic in relation to a particular "girl." There is no Valentino-Girl, no ideal muse or idol, but instead, Valentino is a way of thinking, a way of living. It's a certain charm and poise, a familiar freshness. Perhaps it's the beautiful quality of these clothes that seem to be foreign. Maybe it's the simplistic honesty of them; they aren't trying at all to be provocative or forward-thinking, but they spark intrigue just the same. There's always a sense of nostalgia when it comes to Valentino, without doting on the past.
Through and through, Valentino's overarching theme this season was that cultures and countries may have their differences, but fashion speaks for itself and beauty is universal.