Valentino S/S16
Valentino S/S16

Tribal probably isn’t the first descriptor that comes to mind when one thinks of Valentino. Yet, that’s exactly where the creative duo  Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli went with their spring/summer collection for the storied house we might normally associate with romanticism. They wanted to produce a collection that is more native, back to the roots of who we are as humans, and more primitive in its textures. The duo was quite successful in their quest, producing ensembles for the season that are quite different from anything else we’ve seen this season.

Starting with very simple brown tunics, the duo grows from there, slowly adding tribally-influenced decorations, taking great care to not go overboard too early, ending with a selection of sheer gowns covered in gorgeous applique and beadwork. Once they’ve established their motif, there is no straying from it. There is no distressed denim. There are no bomber jackets. There are no pants or jumpers. There is no crazy headgear. This is a very distinct and different collection, one that will easily stand apart and be readily identifiable from other seasons and other designers.

What makes this collection stand out is how well the designers have taken centuries-old customs and re-worked them with modern materials. Tall grass becomes fringe on the end of sleeves and skirts. Hand-dyed patterns become delicate embroidery over carefully chosen sheer. The looks are modern representation of thoroughly classic African designs and the duo has been careful to not miss a detail.

Where the house erred, though, was in how they cast their runway. I know I’ve mentioned diversity frequently this season, but if one is going to present a collection based in its entirety upon the tribal cultures found on the African continent, don’t you think it would make sense to have more than four African models? This is a huge collection of nearly 90 looks, all extremely well done, but when modeled by almost exclusively white European girls, some of which were painfully pale, then I think the house is opening itself to fair criticism that it is misappropriating an ancient culture for its own profit. This obviously isn’t the first time that fashion has made this error, but I expect the noise around it to be considerably louder than with previous offenses.

Make no mistake,  Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli have delivered an absolutely gorgeous collection of clothing, but to exclude models whose ancestry, if not they themselves, come from the very culture represented is wrong and morally offensive. I can only hope the house rectifies this error in their spring/summer campaign. Diversity in fashion is a critical issue and insults like this cannot be allowed to go without being addressed.

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