The Future of Valentino After Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Major Aesthetic Stamp

MILAN — It may be a cliché, but the show must go on. The fashion industry is still digesting the news of Pierpaolo Piccioli’s sudden departure from Valentino after 25 years, but the rumor mill is already in overdrive as to who will succeed him.

On Friday, WWD was the first to report that Piccioli was exiting the Rome-based couture house based on information from market sources, who also believe that former Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele will succeed him and is thick in talks and negotiating a contract with Valentino.

Michele could not be reached for comment.

According to sources, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, chief executive officer of Valentino parent Mayhoola, last year wished for Michele to become creative director of Walter Albini but the deal did not materialize as the proposal included an investment in the project, which the designer declined. Last May, Bidayat revealed it had acquired the intellectual property and a substantial part of the archives of Albini, with the goal of reviving the brand. Bidayat is controlled by Alsara Investment Group, which was founded by Rachid.

“This time around, the Valentino project would be much more interesting for Michele, as it would also allow him to design couture collections, and it is no secret that he needs a well-oiled machine behind him to support his research and creativity, with skilled designers and artisans, the best fabrics and big pockets to turn his ideas into reality,” said another source. “Also, Valentino is not as huge in terms of sales as Gucci, so the pressure is different, and, on the contrary, there is strong growth potential.” For context, as per the latest figures available, Valentino’s sales in 2022 reached 1.42 billion euros, up 15 percent from 2021. Gucci’s sales last year were 10.5 billion euros.

One source pointed out that Valentino’s CEO Jacopo Venturini and Michele aren’t strangers, as they met when the former was executive vice president, merchandising and global markets at Gucci. “They worked well together, of course they may have had some disagreements — creativity versus business demands — but it was a good relationship.” Venturini was named CEO of Valentino in May 2020.

Michele’s non-compete is said expire this month and Valentino needs a designer pronto to avoid sitting out too many seasons. After all, the story goes that Michele’s first collection for Gucci under the lead of then-chairman and CEO Marco Bizzarri in 2015 was assembled in only a few days, following the sudden exit of his predecessor Frida Giannini a week earlier. Additionally, Michele is said to be determined to continue to live in Rome and has recently been restoring his new home in a medieval building in the city, Palazzo Scapucci.

Speculation is swirling that Alessandro Michele will succeed Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino.

Giovanni Giannoni / WWD

Valentino said Friday that Piccioli’s successor would be named soon, which points to some speed in the process. The designer has already exited the company, making his fall 2024 all-black collection shown during Paris Fashion Week his swansong for the brand.

Sources are also speculating about the future of Piccioli, saying he could be next in line at Balenciaga to succeed Demna, or at Givenchy, now designed by a team after the exit of Matthew M. Williams. At the same time, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s artistic director of women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessories collections, could also be eyeing a return to Rome, either at Valentino or at Fendi, sources believe.

No matter — despite all the white noise, Piccioli’s departure was met with surprise and sadness.

On his official Instagram page, Valentino Garavani thanked Piccioli “first and foremost” for his “friendship, respect and support.” He continued by saying: “You’re the only designer I know who hasn’t tried to distort the codes of a major brand by imposing new ones and the megalomania of a ridiculous ego.” 

He recalled how when he retired he said he wanted to leave the party while it’s still full of people. “And the same happens for you PP, the party is full of people and everyone applauds you. Thank you Amico!”

“What an extraordinary Valentino you have made. What a gift to everyone there, and to all of us,” wrote Marc Jacobs.

“Grande Pierpaolo,” spelled out in all caps by Donatella Versace. “You made magic you brought elegance, fantasy and drama. You honored a master while continuing to nurture your own Voice and ignited the next generation of customers.”

“Sending love and respect,” posted Zac Posen.

The list goes on, with fond messages from everyone from Silvia Venturini Fendi to Sabato De Sarno, who worked with Piccioli from 2009, eventually becoming fashion director overseeing men’s and women’s collections before being promoted to creative director of Gucci last year.

Valentino Couture Spring 2024

Valentino, couture spring 2024

Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

Piccioli “will be sorely missed: his vision of beauty, his sense of color and materials, his aristocratic perception of fashion will remain indelible pages in the history of fashion,” said with some sadness Alessandro Maria Ferreri, founder and CEO of luxury consultancy The Style Gate, praising the designer’s respect for the heritage of Valentino, almost singular in this industry compared to his peers, he remarked.

“Sentimentally,” he touted Piccioli’s ability to offer “beauty and dreams,” but “rationally, as an adviser and entrepreneur.”

Ferreri acknowledged that “when the going gets tough, practical decisions must be taken and this was not a surprise,” admitting there had been “several signals [pointing to a need for a change] in the market for a while, despite the strong aesthetic emotions provided at each show.”

He gave a thumbs-up to the idea of Michele joining Valentino. “It would be amazing and, as Martin Margiela told John Galliano arriving as creative director of the brand, ‘take it and make it yours.’”

Bernstein’s Luca Solca clearly differed. “I don’t believe Alessandro Michele may be a good fit for the Valentino brand DNA. I think they will have to look further afield.”

He also said he thought “it was time for Valentino to look for new creative energy. The market hasn’t seen a sequel to the Rock Stud success, and the brand needs new ideas.”

Giovanna Brambilla, partner at Milan-based executive search firm Value Search, drew a series of comparisons between Piccioli and Michele: Both are very much connected to their roots and their hometowns, both initially trained at Fendi with Karl Lagerfeld, and both have professionally grown in their respective brands and brought “great success with their talent.”

Both departed in surprise moves, even if observers wondered whether Piccioli’s all-black collection — the “color of goodbyes” — for fall 2024 “was a prelude to major changes” for a designer who loves color, said Brambilla, who was particularly struck by “the sincere gratitude that both expressed to their teams” in their exit statements, acknowledging that teamwork alone can “realize dreams.”

Brambilla underscored that both Michele and Piccioli used this specific term. “These great creative directors are telling us that in the fashion industry, which moves billions in sales and reports among the highest multiples, there is a need for the intangible, for that magic alchemy that creates and delivers dreams.”

These designers are telling us that “it is not enough to think of today, of quarterly results and investors’ expectations,” as surely these must be taken into consideration, but this industry in particular is different, “it is fueled by dreams, turned into reality by the expert hands of artisans.”

Brambilla concluded by wondering if the business model that has not changed for decades still makes sense, with seasonal collections and shows and special projects supported by enormous investments that “often run out very quickly.” A few brands and designers are breaking this mold, she said, citing Phoebe Philo with her new brand and Moncler with Genius, wondering if these uncertain times will push more companies to radically rethink their strategies.

Valentino Fall 2024 Ready-to-Wear Collection at Paris Fashion Week

Valentino, fall 2024

Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

Rodgy Guerrera, founder of boutique headhunter Rodgy Guerrera & Partners, said how following the pandemic, “the luxury world is filled with uncertainties,” which has led to the success of the quiet luxury trend, as customers seek “intrinsic creativity in the research of fabrics, shapes, craftsmanship and details. And this will be the challenge for creative directors, imagining a new form of creativity.”

As a successor to Piccioli, Guerrera believes a designer attentive to the above would be a good fit. “Observing emerging designers with their own brands or working for established ones, I imagine the creativity of a Millennial would work, someone close to the luxury customer today, who understands what is required today, mindful of issues such as inclusivity and sustainability. A creative director close to the digital world, but also used to archival research, to correctly interpret the history of the brand with a view that is closer to that of the contemporary customer, experimenting and innovating. But we must allow a reasonable time to these new creative directors to express who they are and their vision.”

Piccioli was named sole creative director of Valentino in July 2016, following the departure of Chiuri to join Dior.

Chiuri and Piccioli first worked together at Fendi for 10 years. In 1999, Valentino Garavani selected the designers to boost his brand’s accessories category, which they did, rejuvenating that division. They were promoted to creative directors of accessories at Valentino when Alessandra Facchinetti was assigned the same title for rtw after Garavani retired in 2007. In 2008, they succeeded Facchinetti as creative directors of the brand.

While highly respectful of Garavani and the heritage of Valentino — in particular emphasizing the brand’s couture — Piccioli embraced a more diverse and inclusive approach, distancing himself from the rarefied and jet-set days of yore. In his understated manner, Piccioli continued to live in Nettuno, Italy, a beach town 44 miles south of Rome where he was born, where he met his wife, Simona, and where they are raising their three children. He has said for years that he also considers Valentino his home and has again and again taken the opportunity to pay tribute to the talent of the seamstresses who have long worked for the company — highlighting the exquisite craftsmanship of Valentino’s atelier.

At the same time, he has brought a younger spirit to the maison with a new perspective, for example choosing as Di.Vas brand ambassadors — an acronym that stands for Different Values — Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton or Suga, the much-loved member of the boy band BTS. Piccioli telegraphed his message of inclusivity by going contrary to Roman stereotypes, casting Adut Akech and Anwar Hadid for the Valentino Born in Roma fragrance.

With his influential designs, he introduced daring volumes and colors — including the PP Pink new Pantone shade; developed more daywear looks, and dabbled with streetwear. His attention to detail was exemplified, for example, by his careful study of the white shirt for Valentino’s spring 2019 rtw collection.

ROME, ITALY - JULY 08: (EDITOR’S NOTE: Image contains nudity.) Florence Pugh attends the Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 22/23 fashion show on July 08, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Designer Pierpaolo Piccioli designed his own shade of the color with Pantone, naming it “Pink PP,” worn here by Florence Pugh.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

In July of last year, Kering revealed it bought a 30 percent stake in Valentino for 1.7 billion euros in cash as part of a broader strategic partnership with Qatari investment fund Mayhoola, which controls the couture brand.

Kering has an option to buy 100 percent of Valentino’s capital by 2028, while Mayhoola could become a shareholder in Kering. The new luxury partners are expected to jointly explore further opportunities aligned with their respective strategies, including potential investments beyond fashion.

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