Valentino returned to Paris for the first time on Friday since the onset of the pandemic. In the cavernous building of the Carreau du Temple, in the Marais district of the city, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli unveiled a collection titled Rendez-Vous, meaning "to meet".
To witness the new spring/summer 2022 collection, 400 or so guests sat inside around classic Parisian cafe tables and chairs, while outside, hundreds more gathered on the street.
Assumed to be there for the celebrity spotting, only when the show began and a huge wall of LED screens came to life was the real reason revealed. They weren't here to watch the fashion crowd arrive, they were here for the free fashion show that was about to unfold.
As the models made their way down the runway, they walked through the crowd inside, and then straight out on to the street, using Rue Eugene Spuller as the extended runway.
And the clothes? How to describe a collection that was dazzling in its brevity of cut and astonishing colour combinations. Think a chocolate taffeta coat, worn with a cerise shirt with its pussy-bow ties left unfastened. Or the same chocolate tone now as shorts and teamed with a sequinned copper cape, hanging on one shoulder and left to trail on the floor?
Or what of the man's shirt, now exploded in size to become a voluminous dress in chartreuse? Or the 1960s patterned shirt, lifted straight from the Valentino archive, and now worn by a man.
Dedicated to bringing Valentino to a newer audience, Piccioli has been quietly reworking the house to widen its appeal. Long known for its lustrous glamour and heart-stopping red carpet moments, this show was instead about something else, something looser, and less grand.
Pitched at an audience that prefers an informal approach, this was more about an oversized shirt left half untucked, and billowing capes teamed with shorts and lace-up boots.
In a mix of new designs and pieces carefully lifted straight from Valentino's archive – the opening dress in all-white was one such piece – it was a collection that felt light and optimistic.
The famous Valentino know-how was much in evidence, seen as embroidery now on coats and broderie anglais scattered across shirts and tops, while every look was worn with flat shoes, either the Roman stud sandals or the reissued snake sandal that coiled almost to the knee.
In staging the event, Piccioli extended a hand of support and gratitude to the city, so that not only were residents given a free fashion show, but surrounding businesses were also brought into the fold.
A neighbouring hairdresser offered Valentino make-up, while the cafe opposite supplied dinner to the hungry masses. Another shop was given over to a pop-up, selling branded Vaccinated sweatshirts (as seen on Piccioli's Instagram account) with all the proceeds going to Unicef's global Covax programme.
Watching the models parade past, in a blur of intoxicating colour and out on to the street for the city to enjoy, it was hard not to be impressed. Many brands speak of accessibility and wanting to widen the conversation, but Piccioli seems more willing to actually act on it as well.
In delivering this beautiful, joyful collection that spoke of the past, the present and more importantly, the future, Valentino gave a masterclass on how to democratise fashion. Even above the thumping soundtrack of Depeche Mode and Annie Lennox, everyone inside could hear the crowd roar its approval.