"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players," the bard famously said. William Shakespeare's dictum was the premise behind Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli's autumn/winter 2016 collection for Valentino, which, as was confirmed shortly after the show, is the last to be designed in tandem by the two (Chiuri's appointment to Dior is a done deal, according to industry insiders).
This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and the occasion inspired the duo, who in a previous couture collection paid homage to the world of opera, to celebrate the English playwright's ability to paint fully formed personalities with words. Instead of referencing specific characters from his oeuvre, however, the designers conjured up a "portrait gallery" in which each look subtly referenced Shakespeare's world.
Ruffled collars, equestrian silhouettes and embellished cloaks were some of the Elizabethan influences in a predominantly black and white collection, though some red and gold pieces that accentuated the regal feel of the clothes, which evoked a modern-day Queen Elizabeth I, ready to stomp in heavy-soled boots and dripping in leather-and-brass jewelry.
While the show was a slight departure from the ethereal aesthetic we've come to associate with Valentino – only one look featured floral embroidery and the tailored ensembles were almost as many as the gowns – it still had the fragile grace and effortless elegance that have become the trademarks of the maison. It will be interesting to see whether the changes at the head of the design studio will affect the balancing act between poetry and punk that has been the guiding principle of the Roman house in recent seasons.