Luxury fashion house, Valentino, has announced Pierpaolo Picciolo will be stepping down from his role as creative director, after 25 years with the brand. The news has taken the fashion industry by surprise with heartfelt messages pouring in from the designer’s star studded fanbase. Florence Pugh, Valentino’s lauded muse, gushed in the comments of Piccioli’s latest Instagram: “I wept watching this. But happy sweet tears. What an honour it has been to be a part of your world and wear your creations and walk with the pride of wearing your art.”

Florence Pugh in Valentino by Vittorio Zunnio Celotto/GETTY IMAGES

VALENTINO Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2022 on the Spanish Steps by Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Since 2016, Piccioli has been the sole creative director, elevating the image of a brand thought to be lost after the departure of Valentino Garavani, the eponymous founder. Upon his exit Garavani thanked him and said: “You’re the only designer I know who hasn’t tried to distort the codes of a major brand by imposing new ones and the megalomania of a ridiculous ego.” Piccioli’s era marked the redefinition of Valentino, a quintessentially Italian brand, given a new lease of life through his genius. From the cinematic masterpiece of his collection on the Spanish steps in Rome to the romantic fairytale of Château de Chantilly in Paris, his runway shows will be sorely missed. 

Now, the aesthetic stamp of Piccioli’s designs have been etched into the very essence of Valentino, drawing standing ovations from the front row. He reignited passion for the brand, with stars like Rihanna and Zendaya draped in looks fresh from the runway. And when he released the captivating hue, ‘PP Pink’, the shade was a hit on the red carpet, especially as Barbie embarked on a seemingly never-ending press tour. Launched in the fall of 2022, it exuded a punk attitude, nodding to the designer’s love of all things radical. 

Pierpaolo Piccioli by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

VALENTINO ‘Le Noir’ Fall 2024 (Look 59) via Tagwalk

Unbeknownst to attendees, last month’s Paris Fashion Week, marked the end of Piccioli’s Valentino career, showcasing an uncharacteristically all-black collection. It represented a loss of faith in society, a reflection of the dark times we live in. Piccioli said: “When you are aware of the darkness, you can look into the light. But we have to face that, not escape it.” The show encompassed the brilliance of his previous collections which spoke to the greatest challenges of humanity. Through these designs, he offered a rebellion to romance, confronting stereotypes with black silhouettes and tulle flowers. It was a poignant finale to his love affair with Valentino – the perfect colour of goodbye. 

Alessandro Michele, ex-Gucci boss, will fill Piccioli’s shoes, revealing there was truth to the rumours of his appointment after all. Best-known for his signature maximalist aesthetic, he brought intricate and fantastical designs to the fashion house – one of his most memorable creations was Jared Leto’s 2019 Met Gala outfit. You know, the one where he carries a replica of his severed head as a purse. 

Alessandro Michele by Andreas Solaro/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Michele never shies away from bold statements, whether fashionable or social. Through his designs, he has tackled political issues most industry leaders fall silent on. From gun control to LGBTQ+ rights, he uses fashion to dive in at the deep end. This has drawn celebrities like Harry Styles to his cult following, leading to explosive creations such as the ball gown Styles wore for the December 2020 cover of Vogue – It sparked a conversation on toxic masculinity and the desire for more gender fluid clothing. And with Valentino’s history of platforming social issues under Piccioli, people are alight with excitement for what Michele could offer. 

left: Harry Styles in Gucci by Alessandro Michele, by Tyler Mitchell for Vogue December 2020
right: Jared Leto in Gucci by Alessandro Michele, by Evan Agostini/ Invision/AP

Under his reign, Gucci’s sales tripled, catapulting him to fashion royalty. When he departed from the brand in 2022, speculation of his next creative endeavour clouded every lead opening for a major luxury brand. Speaking to Vogue Business, he said: “I feel the immense joy and the huge responsibility to join a Maison de Couture that has the word ‘beauty’ carved on a collective story made of distinctive elegance, refinement, and extreme grace.”

But rumours about Piccioli’s departure have already kicked off. Last year, Piccioli told The New York Times: “The money has won,” dissuaded with the direction the fashion industry was going in. And with Kering, a parent company to Mayhoola, the Qatari investment fund, acquiring 30% of Valentino last year, there has been speculation over Piccioli’s decision to leave. In the past, he has expressed his disdain for the commercial aspect of fashion which is strangling the art of couture. And with such a dark statement hanging over his final show, these theories are unlikely to quieten. Valentino’s CEO, Jacopo Venturini, spearheaded this business deal. Coincidentally, he also worked with Michele during their time together at Gucci, leaving open the possibility for a smoother business dynamic. 

Although lush pink gowns and silver studded bags will forever represent his signature Valentino style, it is Piccioli’s humanity that will define his legacy for the brand. He was committed to embracing diversity and compassion, upstaging glib promises made by other designers. Rather than bathing in the shallowness of the limelight, Piccioli would pay tribute to his seamstresses, bringing them onto the runway, hand in hand. And his Spring/Summer 2019 show, based on the famous Cecil Beaton photograph, was reinterpreted with models of colour, using designs that complimented their wide range of beautiful skin tones. It was this sense of purpose and kind-heartedness that would leave the strongest impression of all. 

Piccioli’s legacy will be remembered as one that shared the “inner grace” of people through his illustrious designs. His art spoke to the masses because that is the very place he drew inspiration from. He spoke of running through the streets of New York City, finding normal people who embodied the essence of originality – passing their wisdom down to us in his collections. With his heart on his Valentino gown, he championed fashion that could deliver positive change – “My job is about delivering an idea of beauty for my time. We don’t just deliver clothes, we deliver value.”

cover image: Pierpaolo Piccioli by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images via voguebusiness.com