Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. Photography by Matthu Placek for Yahoo Style
As Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times noted at the recent Parsons graduation, fashion has become universal. “The Pacquiao Mayweather fight is a fashion story. The Mad Men finale is a fashion story…Yahoo is a fashion story,” she said at the time — no arguments there! — making a salient point. Perhaps no one understands fashion’s ability to permeate our current culture better than Valentino’s creative directors, Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri. The pair met through mutual friends in the ’80s and soon started working together, first at Fendi and then at Valentino where they spent a decade as the brand’s accessory designers before being promoted to co-creative directors in 2008. During that time they have managed to not only marvel in the label’s iconic history, but also find new ways of establishing their own fresh imprint through their love of music, books, film, and the invaluable input of their own families (both designers are married with children).
What one might not suspect from two people who are responsible for producing eight exquisitely crafted collections a year, is that both Piccioli and Chiuri are quite playful. They are as comfortable at a couture show as they are at a dive bar in Brooklyn. It is for all of these reasons and more that they were bestowed the International Award at Monday night’s CFDA gala.
In a Yahoo Style exclusive, the Italian designers discuss (in charmingly broken English) finding that elusive balance between work and play, Pierpaolo’s love of dirty water hot dogs, and how their fondness for Blue Steel selfies with Ben Stiller lead to the big Zoolander coup at their Fall 2015 show.
Yahoo Style: You mentioned that you are very nervous about the CFDA Awards, how come?
Maria Grazia Chiuri: We are really nervous because it is a big emotion to receive this award. At the same time the idea to go there and give a speech…we believe that it is important to thank the people that are giving us this award and also the people who have been with us in our career. They supported us in our job. It’s a big responsibility.
Pierpaolo Piccioli: When you try to prepare your speech, all of the people that you met pass through your mind. It’s emotional to think about all of the people that came to you and shared with you throughout all of the different steps in your career.
MGC: At the beginning it was really hard because fashion was not like it is now. I remember my mother said, “It’s a dreamer job, are you sure?” Now it’s completely different. And so this award in some way is the idea that you really can do what you want in your life. You can do what is your aspiration. You can try, it’s not sure that you can arrive, but you can try. I think it’s also a good lesson for our children.
PP: If you work hard, and if you have talent, and if you are aware of your talent, you can do whatever you dream. This is an important message for our kids. You follow your passions and everything can happen.
YS: Everyone speaks Valentino. It is such an iconic brand, so it is very appropriate to be getting this International Award, no? Between the established clients and the new generation, it’s attractive to everyone.
MGC: We arrived at Valentino because we loved the brand. We were very fascinated by the Valentino story, the culture, the beauty, the elegance. The stories of Jackie Kennedy, the iconic muse of Valentino. The white collection. Pierpaolo and I know the history of fashion very well. Especially Valentino and Saint Laurent. Those were the two designers that were born couturiers, but in time became very famous for their pret-a-porter. When it was possible for us to do our vision of the brand, we decided to maintain the heritage because we believe it is very strong, but at the same time, we translated it with our point of view and our personal vision. And I think in this way, we captured a different generation. The new generation doesn’t necessarily know about the heritage. And the typical Valentino clients probably found something new because they saw another point of view.
PP: We are very Italian. We are so proud to be Italian. So this International Award means that you can be very faithful to your roots and to who you are. When everything is global, if you go very local, maybe you have something more interesting to say. Tonight with us will be Franca Sozzani [editor in chief of Vogue Italia] and [actress] Valeria Golino, because we want to get our Italianess into the world. It’s very personal. It’s the way we are and the way we want to deliver.
YS: In a world of fast fashion and reality TV, I think people appreciate the authenticity.
MGC: If you are authentic, if you work hard, people will understand it. It’s not easy to find someone who recognizes your work. Fashion is important industry, it’s an important idea, it’s important art. Here you feel that people understand it. We are so proud of the craftsmanship and the thanks and the love that we put into our job and what we do. It’s great.
PP: The young generation understands the value and the messages that you deliver with the fashion. Fashion is about giving the idea of beauty for your time. And if it’s not an authentic message, you feel that.
Charlize Theron in Valentino at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Getty Images
YS: Speaking of authenticity, how important are celebrities to your brand today? Historically there were very famous women who wore Valentino and now you’re attracting a whole new customer base, but it’s very different.
MGC: The celebrity world has changed a lot. It used to be one celebrity stays with one brand. It’s very difficult because the celebrity decides what they want to wear in different moments. They don’t know, and they don’t choose only one brand. There are many celebrities that we love. We dressed a lot of people for Cannes like Charlize Theron. She’s amazing! And Sienna Miller. We are really very happy and surprised when we see a celebrity in one of our dresses.
PP: In a way, we dress up the “princess moment” of celebrity. Like when Chloé Sevigny wore Valentino to the Golden Globes in 2010, it was different. It’s Chloé, but you see her in a different perspective.
YS: Right, the quintessential downtown “it girl” with an uptown look.
PP: It was downtown meets romantic. Rihanna in the suit. Alicia Vikander in a baby blue gown in Cannes was so beautiful. Women are fascinating today so they wear different brands for different moments. We are so glad to dress up these romantic and princess moments. It’s cool, but in a different way.
MGC: I remember the moment with Chloé well because we were so happy. It was amazing. With the ruffles and everything…and then also the Rockstuds.
YS: Well the Rockstuds are like rock stars, everyone is wearing them.
PP: I like to see a rock and roll attitude with romanticism, it’s cool.
MGC: Like at the Met Ball, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet wore Valentino. So fantastic. There is also the actress Adele Exarchopoulos. She has a beautiful face and beautiful skin. I find it very exciting when they choose the right dress for their style. I am really fascinated by that.
PP: With glamour, there are no rules. That is important message to deliver. It’s all about the mix, about the balance between your personal style and your own attitude and the dress you are going to wear. You can be rock and romantic at the same time. That’s what girls want to do today. The high-low is the right balance.
The Fall 2015 collection, shown during Paris Fashion Week. Photo: Getty Images
Yahoo Style: Speaking of cool, I love that recent NY Times story where you are both practicing trapeze! It seems that we are getting to learn more about you beyond your work as designers, which is so fun.
PP: We never wanted to substitute our faces for Valentino’s face. We wanted to deliver our job, do our work, and execute our idea of beauty for the Valentino brand. Of course when you deliver your job, perhaps people want to know more about who we are. This is where we are now.
MGC: I think for us, at the very beginning, it was more important for us to speak with our job, not about ourselves. I was very shy about my life. I don’t think it’s easy to speak about yourself. If you have an attitude, it’s okay. But if not…
YS: I realize that there are a lot of cultural influences that go into your work, but Maria Grazia, I understand that you’re very into music…
MGC: I love music! Music is important to our job, like art, like books. We are obsessed with books. We don’t have enough time to read as much as we want. I really believe that if you want to speak about your time, you have to be very open about other arts. I am very happy that my kids tell me what is cool. They give me more information about the world because fashion is not only about dress, it’s about time. You have to know your time. Music and books are a way to know your time.
PP: You can see everything and not look at anything. It’s about eyes, it’s about the way you see. Kids give you a different perspective on things.
MGC: We were so lucky when we came to New York for the Met Gala and went to a little concert for Mika in Brooklyn. That was great. And Mika is another Italian artist, and then we went around the city together to see the new Whitney Museum. We could speak about our emotions, our point of view. Our job is incredible because you can meet so many interesting people. I like to speak with other people and have a different moment.
PP: Yeah, it’s about sharing emotions, sharing impressions. It’s about this different perception of what you see wherever you are.
MGC: We came back very tired! [Laughs] Because in three days we did trapeze, concerts, Whitney, Met Ball, interviews for photo shoots in two and half days, burger at the Four Seasons, which we loved.
PP: And a hot dog from the street.
MGC: That’s you only.
YS: You like those dirty water dogs?
PP: I love it. The dirtiest dog. When I am in New York, I have to have this moment of the dirtiest hot dog. And coffee from the deli. I go in my flip-flops and my camouflage jacket, it’s very New York.
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reprise their Zoolander characters at the Valentino show in March. Photo: Getty Images
YS: I was at your Fall show, and of course the clothes were so beautiful and serene, and then Zoolander guys came out, and the whole place went wild. Was that fun for you? Everyone at the show was literally in hysterics.
PP: We loved that moment. It was so funny and so personal. That’s why we did it.
MGC: We never imagined in our life that that would happen when we met Ben [Stiller]. He suggested the idea. We were in Rome with Francesca [Leoni, the head of PR] to have dinner, and he said, “What do you think if I introduce the second film at your show?” But in our mind, it was something simple. We never imagined that the whole world would find it so entertaining! We love the film, and when we saw it 12 years ago, we spent a lot of time talking about it. It is amazing.
PP: Every time we used to meet with Ben, he and I would do the Blue Steel picture. I have 30 pictures in three years of Blue Steel with Ben. Every time! And so when he was going to launch the movie with the show, we said, Why not?
MGC: I begged Francesca to do the gas station scene with the pump.
PP: Before you Gogo mama!
MGC: Yes, that’s it, and then we immediately sent the pictures to Ben!
PP: See, even if the show was so precise and serious, it’s very important to work seriously, but not take everything so seriously. [Laughs]