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This Couture Show Brought Celine Dion to Tears

What exactly made this parade of artfully-crafted ball gowns so brilliantly moving?

After yesterday’s Valentino Haute Couture Spring 2019 show, Celine Dion was captured wiping away tears in the front row and British Vogue editor Edward Enninful captioned an Instagram that it was, “Possibly the most emotional show I’ve ever watched. I feel like my late mother would have loved it.” A non-fashion friend even texted me afterwards to say, “I’m SICK watching this show” suggesting the poetics of the clothing were immediately apparent no matter one’s proximity to the fashion industry. So what exactly made this parade of artfully-crafted ball gowns so brilliantly moving?

A few things, really.

Pierpaolo Piccioli, who has been the sole creative director at Valentino since 2016 when creative partner Maria Grazia Chiura left to head up Dior, based the collection on the juxtaposition of a 1948 Cecil Beaton photograph depicting white women in Charles James couture gowns beside a similar photograph of sharply-dressed Black women taken a decade later. “What if these women,” Piccioli said, pointing to the photograph of Black women, “were dressed like these women?” His answer was delivered brilliantly in the form of a couture collection that brimmed over with exuberant, roiling decadence.

Dresses were devoured by propagating ruffles, and as many variations of florals were on display as one might find in the Queen’s private gardens at Buckingham Palace. One particular dress, a puffball of tulle enveloped the torso to create a silhouette not unlike the Epcot Centre; another featured a head covering that resembled a beatific Orthodox saint. The clothing bore all the classic hallmarks of femininity but rendered in such oversize proportions, they exuded the commanding presence of a grande dame as opposed to a little girl.  Couture, recently seen as a lagging relic of a prior era, was completely revitalized.

It was also the first time perhaps in fashion history, where inclusivity/diversity didn’t feel like a PR stunt. Inclusive messaging needn’t announce itself, it should just simply exist, and in this case, the diverse casting did not feel as if it was being played for positive headlines. “Today, beauty is about diversity, it’s about the freedom to express yourself. This is what I want to stand for,” Piccioli told T: The New York Times Style Magazine last year.

Living up to his promise, the show cast primarily Black models who recreated the Cecil Beaton tableau at the end of the presentation; a bold intention to rewrite history. Though Picciolo’s collection owed a debt to the ‘grand old days’, it did not appear to year for them. In creating something retro, he was able to create a collection that is throroughly modern.

The collection reminded me of a minor internet scandal from last year spurred on by a now-deleted tweet from OG fashion blogger BryanBoy; “The only way to get out of this fashion malaise is to make it complicated and complex again. I like that we need to work extra hard to lose pounds to fit into celine. I like that clothes are super expensive. Enough of being relaxed or with streetwear. Filter out the undesirables.”

If one was to look past BryanBoy’s gross fatphobia in favour of a more charitable interpretation, it’s that fashion needn’t, in fact shouldn’t, contort itself to appeal to the largest possible audience in order to gain a following. The Valentino Couture show made clear Pierpaolo isn’t bowing to anything, simply following his marvelous instincts. And for that, we should all be grateful.

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