Valentino adopts red theme in fashion show to launch Shanghai flagship store

Take it asWhen Valentino opened its first flagship store in Shanghai, it pulled out all the stops, writes Jing Zhang

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 8:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 8:12pm

A big couture brand like Valentino doesn't do anything by halves. It wasn't enough just to launch a store and fly in top models from around the world for a regular runway show - the brand had to go big. So Valentino's first flagship store on the mainland, in Shanghai, is its second-largest after Milan, and has been designed by renowned architect David Chipperfield.

What's more, rather than simply presenting their recent spring-summer collections, which had already debuted in Paris, Italian creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli decided to create an 81-look collection just for the occasion.

The theme of the collection was "red", with the colour expressing a link between the fashion house (with its signature Valentino red) and China. The designers labelled it a "Manifesto collection".

Besides being a clever concept, it was a stunning collection - a creative and marketing coup for the brand. Using clean, graphic lines on a range of dresses, coats, capes and separates, a spectrum of reds adorned outfits made from delicate laces, shiny leathers, silks, crotchet, textural appliqués, furs and chiffons.

Different tonal reds on a chunky fur camouflage pattern coat were gorgeous, as were the sheer laces and daring animal prints which balanced prim bows and Peter Pan collars.

All this took place inside the circular glass building at Shanghai's International Cruise Terminal on the Bund, with the city's spectacular evening skyline providing the backdrop. "We wanted to do something very special," says Valentino CEO Stefano Sassi. "We all worked very hard to present something new for Shanghai.

"This is our first show outside of Paris, so it is a bit strange for us too," adds Piccioli. "We hope to bring a lot of surprise and emotion. It's a collection that is very much linked to our roots and our personal vision, as well as to this special moment."

Their vision, as always, was elegant, and much more pared down than their spring-summer ready-to-wear in Paris. The Shanghai collection featured knife-edge pleating on coats and skirts which created a cool, graphic twist, and added some severity. Outfits made from thousands of feathers, intricately layered on top of each other in rows, showed the lightness and power of Valentino couture. Although this collection was an exercise in competing textures and surfaces, nothing felt overwrought or overdone.

Despite the red theme, Chiuri says the Shanghai collection is not a Chinese collection. Rather it's "a special collection about this special moment, but still very close to our identity".

"One of the reasons we wanted to do an entirely new show in Shanghai was that, because of the web, people around the world have already seen our Paris show," explains Piccioli, who says the red collection was their way of getting local to go global.

Although Shanghai was the platform, the message was aimed at a global audience. Live streaming of the show and event is evidence of Valentino's progressive digital strategy.

"We are working 360 in terms of our retail," says CEO Sassi. "This is part of our strategy with the store and also with digital and e-commerce. We want to send out a worldwide message, and are now working more to develop the digital side of our experience."

As one of few luxury brands that can boast a strong e-commerce culture along with strong traditional, hands-on couture, Valentino is in an enviable position.

It is the house and designers' deft handling of the new and the old that has pushed its success in recent years. Chiuri and Piccioli have managed to retain that distinctive Valentino elegance and style, while enticing a legion of younger, more fashion-forward fans.

Although the designers acknowledge that the occasional young, rock influence has added a new element to the brand, Piccioli argues that it's not so simple.

"We don't want to talk about just rock 'n' roll or just classic, for women or for the brand. You can be both, and be flexible and have choice. Rock is about breaking the rules, so you can be elegant in a very modern way."

Since taking the helm in 2008, the creative duo have won plaudits for the way they have energised the brand while retaining its classical elegance. "We don't believe that women have to choose one way or another. They can choose many ways," adds Chiuri. "It's also about being effortless. That is the key to it for us."

Chiuri and Piccioli's new signature features, such as the updated camouflage, the studs and the scallop edging on rather minimal, modern dresses, have lasting scope.

"Camouflage, for example, is reinterpreting something that you already know. But we mix it up - like mixing up couture and rock," Piccioli says.

"One of the most important things is to speak about style, not about trends," adds Chiuri. "If there is an element that we really like, we don't just use it for one season. Valentino is a timeless brand. We want to create Valentino icons for the future."

These elements are out in force at the new Shanghai flagship store, sandwiched between the Apple store and Dolce & Gabbana at IAPM mall on Huaihai Zhong Road. An impressive window display shows mannequins as if on a catwalk. Inside, the ambience is warm and modern with rooms housing different types of products.

It's all offset by grey Venetian terrazzo, marble, thick leather and soft carpets - meant to echo the feeling of the Milan store. The ground floor entrance opens to a selection of the wildly popular Rock Stud accessories.

Today, Sassi says, China has become the brand's most important market, with a total of 18 stores in the mainland and Hong Kong. The figure is set to rise to 23 by next year. Sales are soaring worldwide - the label's revenue has doubled from 2012 to 2013 - it's no wonder Sassi is in a good mood.

"With this event and collection, we really want to celebrate China, and we want to celebrate Shanghai," he adds, "China is growing very fast and so is Valentino."