The goal, says Piccioli, is to create wider change. “The aim is to broaden the discourse, to bring in other voices, to use one’s role to open up those worlds,” he says. “To deliberately include different identities and communities within the institutions may, at first glance, seem a cold and scientific choice, but in this phase, it is necessary. It is essential to bring about a crucial change that must take place and that is finally happening.”
It’s a point on which actor Billy Porter, who wore a, yep, hot-pink confection by Piccioli to this year’s Oscars, agrees. “Pierpaolo is on the pulse of what the people want,” says the award-winning star of Pose. “And he seemingly has no fear of ‘damaging the brand’ by embracing the nonbinary, genderless space that has become a real struggle for some of us who are the leaders of this movement.”
We come to the end of our time together, and we scan the walls of Piccioli’s office, lined with framed black-and-white photos depicting 1980s Soviet punks and goths, pictures of the designer himself, and a portrait of film director Pier Paolo Pasolini and Anna Magnani gazing tenderly at each other. It’s a lived-in space, reflective of the two decades Piccioli has worked for Valentino. This is an unusually long time in fashion, where traditionally, designers move around the creative director chessboard at speed. Did he expect to stick around for so long?
“Obviously when you do successful projects, companies make you offers, and I have received some. One was tempting but I realised I wanted to be here. This is my home,” he says, with affection. “I started to see differently where I was and what I had. I didn’t want this to be part of a rotation: to do three years and then change, another three years and then change again.” He pauses. “Here I feel I can do things I couldn’t do anywhere else. I can do an all-pink collection that seems crazy and against all the marketing rules. I can say political things. I can express my ideas, people can disagree, and this is worth more to me than anything.”
On the subject of his success, Piccioli is sanguine and self-effacing. “I belong to a generation of designers who sometimes say that their collection ‘hasn’t been understood’. But as an artist, you have to be in this moment. If you are too much before or too much after, you don’t capture the moment,” he says, the smoke from his final drag on a Marlboro Gold creating a halo around the silver-flecked chestnut waves of his hair. “If you’re not understood, it means you haven’t explained yourself properly.”
Teo van den Broeke is a British GQ contributing editor. Jacopo Bedussi is GQ Italia’s style editor.
Photographs by Paolo Zerbini
Photographer’s Assistant, Elena Campese
Post-production, Barbara Zilli
Print, Simone Casetta