The collection had such a powerful message that it moved many in the audience to tears.
The great Celine Dion has become a breathless and ebullient presence at couture fashion week over the past few seasons.
Some fashion luminaries seated in the front row of a couture show treat the event with all the solemnity of a priest, but not Dion. If a beautiful gown catches her eye, she’ll flash a thumbs up to the gathered paparazzi. If a collection is particularly well done, she’ll leap to her feet from her chair in applause. If she loves the soundtrack, she’ll sing along in her seat.
And at the Valentino show yesterday, Dion burst into tears.
She wasn’t the only celebrity who was moved to heartfelt emotion by the powerful message on display at the show. The collection, designed by Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, was modelled by one of couture fashion week’s most diverse lineup of models: 39 black women in total, including the iconic Naomi Campbell closing the show.
“Couture is the way that you can evaluate the uniqueness of life, but it was never meant to be for black women,” Piccioli said of the collection. “It was meant for just white women. This is a celebration of black beauty.”
Campbell wept silently as she applauded Piccioli at the end of her walk in a semi-sheer black gown, the first time the supermodel has appeared on the runway for the Italian fashion brand in 14 years. In the front row, British Vogue editor Edward Enninful said it was “the most emotional show I’ve ever watched.” Laura Brown, editor of American InStyle, cried.
Samira Nasr, executive fashion director at Vanity Fair, wrote: “I have never been moved to tears at a fashion show. Tonight I cried at the Valentino show. With all the hate and vitriol in the world today, I was moved to my core to sit at a show that not only celebrated the remarkable craft of men and women we will never know, but it also celebrated diversity. We forget how powerful it is to see your likeness reflected back to you and celebrated.”
The mood at Valentino’s show was electric. Piccioli’s collection was an elegant ode to the power of fashion, all high drama and sublime beauty, modelled by a diverse range of women including Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, Adut Akech, Duckie Thot, Akiima, Sabah Koj and Ayak Veronica. The soundtrack was soul icon Roberta Flack’s The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. The gowns billowed and bustled, all rich, eye-catching colour and oversized ruffles, a tangible, gut-wallop of good old-fashioned glamour.
“Congratulations on a historical moment, done in such an elegant manner no words needed to be said,” Campbell wrote on Instagram. “Blessed to be part of such an incredible, spellbinding moment.”
“What will rightly be the overall takeaway is the immense casting, dominated by models of colour,” Susie Bubble wrote on Instagram. “Not tokenistic. Not a sweeping all-black gesture. This was a subversion of the norm, so that perhaps we can ALL see it as the new normal.”
Historically, Paris fashion week has one of the worst records when it comes to racially diverse casting. According to data gathered by The Fashion Spot, just 15.6% of models in the Spring 2015 shows were women of colour, making Paris the least inclusive of the four fashion weeks.
Since then, Paris has made radical steps to increase its runway diversity, and at the most recent Spring 2019 shows that number had jumped to 32.4%. Paris has more than doubled its number of diverse models, yes, but it also trails behind both London and New York fashion week, which featured 36.2% and 44.8% models of colour in their runway shows.
For Piccioli and Valentino, it was important to take a stand. “All of us are talking about diversity, but talking about diversity and the celebration of black beauty is something totally different,” Piccioli said backstage after the show. “It is not an exotic touch. It is putting in the central part of the picture the right of black girls to be there, and not just white girls. It’s a change of perspective.”