It is a frigid Monday morning in Paris, the first day of the haute couture collections, and sleek, black sedans are bumper-to-bumper on the tiny side streets of the Marais. The fashion crowd is fighting its way to the Picasso Museum, where Valentino designer Pierpaolo Piccioli is set to unveil his latest collaboration with Moncler, the outerwear house, an ambitious project known as 1 Moncler Pierpaolo Piccioli. Just beyond the massive set of double doors of the Picasso Museum is the spectacular courtyard: rough, grey cobblestones; beige, limestone walls; four floors of classical, oversized windows, and a slate Mansard roof. The vast space contains only two objects. In the center is a black strapless evening gown in Moncler’s signature nylon lacqué, with an oversized hem in vivid stripes of brick red and pink. Off to the right, closer to the building, is a hooded evening ensemble in saffron, in an exaggerated A-line form that sweeps onto the cobblestones. The cold air is filled with the sounds of operatic arias by the singer Jessye Norman. Piccioli is clad head-to-toe in black: long, full coat, loose pants, sweater, chunky shoes, a baseball cap, and oversized sunglasses. He casts an eye over the remarkable scene, spanning several centuries of art and design, and says, “It’s like a dream.”
PPP is greeted by an enthused crowd of editors—air kisses, hugs—then joined by the model Liya Kebede. The project is a collaboration between Piccioli and Kebede, whose sustainable label Lemlem works with African artisans to update traditional craftsmanship from the continent. They have created a half-dozen startling evening ensembles. “With couture that connects cultures,” is the idea, combining PPP’s signature dramatic forms, and haute couture detailing. The collection includes five more conventional coats, one of which is being worn by Kebede, in light blue with traditional Ethiopian detailing on the sleeves. As the doors open at the Picasso Museum, the coats go on sale throughout the world on the company’s website.
Inside the museum entrance, the crowd is milling about, with waiters offering espresso, fresh-squeezed juices, and miniature, unwanted croissants (not really a carb crowd). The Picasso Museum, originally built in the 17th century as a private home, the Hôtel Salé, is the perfect setting for the Surrealist work of Piccioli. The designer’s elegant, inventive forms have made Valentino a red carpet favorite: Jennifer Lopez in gold, white, and green at the Golden Globes, Lizzo in an orange sherbet mini at the American Music Awards, Iman in royal blue and white feathers at the Venice Film Festival. On the landing of the museum’s monumental staircase, in pale marble with black iron railings, is another of the designer’s startling ensembles, in slate blue, with burgundy stripes at the base, and an oversized puffer shawl that entirely envelops the head. At the top of the stairs is a mauve gown in the Moncler lacquered nylon, with African detailing across the chest, neck and over a form-fitting hood. The entrance to the second floor galleries, known as Jupiter Hall, has black and white tile floors, enormous windows overlooking the courtyard, and a frieze of classical Greek sculptures along all four walls. Another Piccioli creation is placed peering over the iron railing, an ivory gown with a dramatic cape that encloses the entire upper body, leaving only a small circle for the face. It is positioned in front of a major Surrealist painting by Picasso, Tête: Projet pour un monument (Métamorphose), 1929. On a teal background, two abstract forms circle one another, with circular cutouts that echo Piccioli’s design.
Back downstairs, Carlos Souza, the eternally youthful brand ambassador who has worked with Valentino for decades, is standing with his team. Having been a great friend of the founders Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, Souza is in a unique position to chart the evolution of the house. He looks out at the Moncler gowns in the courtyard, smiles, and uses the same word as everyone else: “extraordinary!”