Revolutions don't always have to be violent. Well, at least not in fashion. Look at the bloodless coup going on at Valentino, courtesy of Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri. They're undoubtedly revolutionising the house that Valentino built, but there isn't a hint of sharpness or violence in their offerings.
What Piccioli and Chiuri have achieved at Valentino is very clever indeed. They have managed to maintain the admiration and respect of Val's Gals - and considering those 'Gals' count amongst their number the wives of former Presidents, Hollywood film stars and pretty much every powerful and/or rich matriarch in Europe (crowned or not), that's a crowd you want to keep sweet. What's more, they have managed to make Valentino entirely relevant to a new customer, the kind of woman who would never dream of wearing one of Signor Garavani's mille-feuille ruffled tulle frocks or oh-so-elaborate pleated and pintucked point d'esprit blouses, but who now dreams of swanning to any and every black tie event in Valentino.
Evening was obviously the focus - it's less a tradition and more a demand that the Valentino collection devotes at least half of its catwalk time to swooning floor-length numbers in jewel-tone chiffon. These were lovely, true, but Piccioli and Chiuri do a neat line in daywear. What's more it's suitable for non-septuagenarian women too. This season it focussed around a fluttery, almost balletic A-line skirt and sweater spanned with a whipcord-thin belt. If that sounds prissy, you're right: the ingredients should have been prissy, but it was one of the freshest things we've seen all week, especially the great colour palette: deep, rich red, sapphire, and a frothy, cappuccino-tinged shade halfway between brown and pink. It's the exact shade of the Valentino woman's skin - that deep maroon chantilly-and-plisse frock is the colour of the merlot she quaffs on her yacht, sailing out on Aegean seas the same shade as those fluffy cashmere sweaters (she wears sapphires too, gobstopper-sized ones, but they're in the hermetically-sealed vault in Zurich right now).
That's part of the fantasy of Valentino, of course - one of the things Piccioli and Chiuri are selling are the allusions to wealth and privilege that the name alone conjures up. That's basic marketing - we figured it out in the seventies (not sure why it took us all so long). The really smart thing the new Valentino team have achieved is to harness that potent brand power with excellent design, making the core Valentino values not desirable, but plain understandable, to an entirely new generation: lightening the silhouette, easing up the shape, and making the whole thing feel absolutely contemporary. Some people get revivals very wrong indeed, but not many get them this spot-on - and season after season to boot.