Valentino presents the essence of wabi-sabi in a standout pre-fall show that challenges traditional ideals of beauty and culture.

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“For the venue of the show, I didn’t choose a beautiful, decorated one. I wanted a brutalist space that was much more raw; that was all about concrete, structure and architecture,” said Valentino Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli. “We wanted to get Valentino away from classic Valentino expectations. It was better for me to create a space of  ‘ma’ [a Japanese word meaning negative space, a pause or interval]: Naked, raw, with no decoration, just clothes and the spirit of the show.”  Which explains why I’m seated, along with other guests, in neat rows along the cavernous industrial hall of Terrada Warehouse in Toyko’s Shinagawa district, anticipating Valentino’s first-ever pre-fall show. But while Piccioli’s choice of venue was an attempt to take the brand far away from the polished world expected of it, the fashion that came down the runway featured classic Valentino codes, executed with a Japanese spirit.

A red ruffled number kicked off the impressive 90-look collection. Feminine florals on dresses were given an edgier touch with red and purple prints overlaid on black. Lace evoked disintegration when expertly spliced across a pleated leather skirt and an oversized jacket for a look that recalled Harajuku’s Gothic Lolitas.

Paying homage to Japan’s heritage of indigo denim were voluminous jackets, dresses and skirts with ruffles and pleats, emblazoned with the brand’s scarlet logo. Blending glamour with street, ostrich feather-fringed bomber jackets, and loose tailored jackets and sweat shirts were worn with sneakers and combat boots for him and her respectively (this was also the brand’s first co-ed showing).

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“I have always been fascinated with the idea of wabi-sabi [a Japanese aesthetic that accepts transience and imperfection] and the Japanese concept of beauty,” Piccioli explained at a press conference the evening before the presentation. “I think wabi-sabi and the idea of beauty and imperfection, of transience—something that goes by with time—is very modern. It’s the opposite idea of Western beauty, which is about perfection, symmetry, shiny and new.”

Ironically, despite being in Japan, the show had nothing overtly traditional from Japanese culture except for a lone silk dress printed with Japanese motifs in a distinctive Yakuza tattoo palette. Instead, Piccioli filled the collection with masterful movement, light-as-air volume and meticulous details.

“For the collection, I was working on this idea of ‘ma’ and creating this sort of connection. I wanted to get the essence of Valentino’s DNA and link it with the essence of Japanese culture because I felt that that was the key for me to understand Japan and to present a collection that was very Valentino, but at the same time assimilate it in Japanese perception,” he elaborated. “That’s why I decided to work on very iconic pieces from Valentino like red, ruffles, flowers— all the things from traditional Valentino but seen through a wabi-sabi perspective.”

The heartfelt Nipponese tribute was also seen in Valentino’s flagship store. Enlisting the artistic talents of eight Japanese artists from a myriad of disciplines (and working in tandem with Sarah Adelman of Colette fame), the brand’s Ginza Six boutique was filled with artworks that spanned Ichiyuki Terai’s traditional noh masks, life-sized origami animal sculptures by Satoshi Kamiya and Kyohei Katsuta, and Yuki Murabayashi’s illustrated Fusuma sliding doors.

Yet the pieces functioned less as store décor than they did as visual fixtures that allowed for a dialogue to take place between the notions of “traditional” and “contemporary”. Especially when juxtaposed against wares that any hypebeast would rave about: From the capsule collections designed in collaboration with Japanese street cult brands, Undercover and Doublet, to the kawaii manga-inspired range of caps, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tags, totes and phone covers—all of which are available exclusively at the Ginza store.

“It was very important for us to create this sort of conversation between Valentino’s couture atelier and the atelier of Japanese traditional crafts,” Piccioli said. “Couture means one-of-a-kind and unique, and I felt that every one of these artisans in Japan who works on kimono, lacquer or other traditional products have the same values of couture. So it was important to create a conversation between tradition and modernity and the tensions between high-low—it’s key to understanding contemporary society.

“Also, it was very important for me to give Valentino new life; it’s not only about beautiful designs that are far from reality. And that was important for us:  To create a store that represents an experience and not just be a place to buy pieces. I feel that today it’s very important for me to get Valentino from a world of exclusivity into a world of inclusivity. And it means also to embrace different cultures and different kinds of beauty.”

In a time when fashion has had more cultural missteps than hits, Piccoli’s Valentino was a lesson in cultural appreciation, done with subtlety, elegance and beauty. And for that, he deserves the accolades that rained down the runway like the silk rose petals at the end of the brand’s pre-fall show.

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From top: Valentino’s Ginza Six flagship store featured works by photographer Izumi Miyazaki. Model with a VRing bag backstage. A tote from the VLTN TKY Manga capsule collection. A VLTN camouflage kimono. The VLTN TKY Manga capsule collection is graced by five characters: Tky the Butterfly, El the Dragon, En the Panther, Tee the Snake and Vee the Tiger. A denim look is a tip of the hat to Japan’s heritage in the fabric. OPPOSITE: (From left) Lace was expertly spliced with leather. The pre-fall finale was capped by a shower of silk rose petals falling from the ceiling. A glamorous red dress bearing all the hallmarks of the brand.