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Two royals—Pierpaolo Piccioli, heir to king of couture Valentino Garavani; and model/music scion Selah Marley, granddaughter of Bob and daughter of Lauryn Hill—are holding court in Katz’s Delicatessen. Standing at the Lower East Side establishment’s counter, which runs the length of the chaotic dining area and is punctuated by steaming mounds of brisket and corned beef, the two are discussing their mutual admiration for, of all people, Justin Bieber. When Marley, who’s sporting a patchwork fur coat over a shocking-pink dress and shower slides from Piccioli’s “Pink Is Punk” resort collection (shown in May, here in New York City), climbs on top of the counter, the tour bus–disgorged diners are too fixated on their mile-high pastrami on ryes to care. As for the staff, they’ve been watching patrons gasp and moan here for nearly 30 years, ever since Meg Ryan faked cinema’s most famous orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. They’ve seen stranger tableaux.
As one might expect from the Italian fashion house that got its start outfitting Hollywood glamour girls in the La Dolce Vita era, the moment is appropriately, well, cinematic. Piccioli, as it transpires, once dreamed of being a movie director, but ended up studying fashion design at Rome’s Istituto Europeo di Design, where he fell hard for the fashion photography of Deborah Turbeville and Irving Penn. “I saw their images as frames in a narrative and used to imagine the moment before and the moment after,” he says. Now he imagines his mission as similar to an auteur’s: “to tell stories about life through fashion.”
In 2008, after spending nine years designing accessories at Valentino alongside his longtime creative partner, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the pair were promoted to co–creative directors. Together, they injected a bit of punkish edge via the best-selling Rockstud accessories line and quietly evolved Valentino’s elaborately embellished evening wear DNA, offering gossamer A-line dresses with long sleeves and high necklines that redefined the brand with a prettiness that was lighter and less forced, if still regal. After Chiuri’s appointment as artistic director of Dior in July 2016, Piccioli, in his first year flying solo, has impressed critics with his new emphasis on daywear, specifically a truly singular breed of haute athleisure. “I can see a woman wearing a tracksuit with fur or jewels,” Piccioli says. “I want her to be able to do her own freestyle.”
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Today, as they tuck into pastrami sandwiches, 18-year-old Marley articulates this ethos well, saying that Valentino’s pieces are “so statement- making, but also give room for exploration. My grandma could wear it, or my cousin.” Piccioli is happy to return the compliment: “I like the way the young generation experiments by wearing a full face of makeup or none at all, or wearing heels as casually as flats.” He’s excited for this new guard to engage with the house’s heritage at every touchpoint, such as the Instagram Stories he creates for the @maisonvalentino account (“supershort films,” he jokes, rearranging a plate of dill spears for a better shot).
Piccioli’s own black-jeans-and-sneakers uniform reads more everyday guy than patrician gentleman. Which, indeed, he is: The 50-year-old takes the train to the atelier every morning from Nettuno, a beach town an hour south of Rome where he and his wife, Simona, are raising their three children—Benedetta, 20, Pietro, 19, and Stella, 11. The commute gives him time to listen to music (Kendrick Lamar and David Bowie at the moment) and catch up on episodes of Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, Netflix’s series on the rise of hip-hop. The show (now sadly canceled) served as inspiration—or as he prefers to call it, “samples”—for Piccioli’s latest collection. You can see its influence in the impressive breadth of sporty daywear, including sheer, A-line midi dresses layered over racing-stripe unitards and tracksuits cut from hammered silk. The Get Down’s original soundtrack, based on pioneering South Bronx ’70s hip-hop, serves as metaphor for the way he approaches design. “Hip-hop samples music; it uses something that is already done and mixes it in a different way. What comes out is one sound, which is made up of different sounds that you already know,” Piccioli says. “But it’s new, and it’s one.”
Styled by Samira Nasr. On model Selah Marley: Mink coat, cotton sweatshirt, $2,790, light georgette dress, $4,400, jersey Lycra swimsuit, $550, all, Valentino, at Valentino boutiques nationwide. Slides, Valentino Garavani, $725. On Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli: His own clothes. Hair by Chuck Amos at Jump for Pantene; makeup by Sir John for L’Oréal Paris; manicure by Gina Viviano for Chanel; casting by Paul Brickman at Zan Casting; model: Selah Marley at Next Models; produced by Una Simone Harris; location: Katz’s Delicatessen, New York.
This article originally appears in the October 2017 issue of ELLE.
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