Eyes widen and mouths drop when we open our social media just to see a new collection of non-other than Alessandro Michele for non-other than Valentino, ahead of his awaited debut. So awaited that we couldn’t believe that more than a hundred new looks had been delivered just like that, in what feels as spontaneous as the designer himself. Sometimes, surprise drops work better than long-waiting periods; the reactions are immediate, and you feel the need to talk about it with everyone you know. With a familiar flavour at first that reminds us of a certain Italian house whose name starts with G and ends in ucci, but with a very long-lasting aftertaste that gets better as you’re more familiar with it and understand the process and concepts involved in its creation, this Valentino Cruise 2025 collection results in a tabula rasa (as a figure of speech, rasa is quite the opposite adjective to describe Michele), where Alessandro makes a fresh but expected start.
On our calendars, Milan Fashion Week Men was soon to be over, and we had our eyes already fixed on Paris. There's no time to wait for the very end, and in fashion, you have to move faster than time itself, but a series of images with looks that certainly look like they were conceived by someone who has been out of the lights for a while made everyone hit the brakes. In a collection named Avant les Débuts, Alessandro Michele delivers the first hint of what his tenure at the Italian luxury fashion house Valentino will look like, only two months after the announcement of his new position as creative director and three months before his official debut in September. More than a hint, it was a whole narrative, that throughout 170 looks gives the fashion world the very discussed answer about how much of Alessandro’s very recognisable aesthetic would be transferred to his new job. The answer was, of course, a lot.
A lot only at first. When you look at the collection overall, it's inevitable to compare it to what we were used to seeing in Alessandro’s previous house, where the minimalism was out of order and the kitsch, the extra, and the flowers were the norm. If we really think about it, the mystery about the route he decides to take wherever he goes shouldn’t be that big. Common sense brings to our heads the obvious fact that there is no reason for Alessandro to change his entire style and taste and start making white t-shirts and jeans combos with no accessories just because he changes houses. A creative mind like his is valued for the consistency of his vision and the striking power of his proposals, and that hasn’t been a consequence of being infused by the brand he’s at at the moment; those are attributes inherent to himself that will be carried and reshaped in the vessels that contain him at the moment. That’s what we can see happening now that Valentino has him inside their walls.
With a house of such history, where plenty of decades have meant the development of plenty of styles, trends, pieces, and aesthetics that reflect the context in which they were created and of who was taking the lead at the moment, one of Alesandro’s greatest strengths, the ability to look at the past and extract from it valuable pieces of information that still have a long useful life in them and bring it to present times, can be showcased in its full glory. For Valentino, the seventies were a decade particularly marked by the ostentious and extravagant quality of its creations. The use of colour, a pillar for the house, was as prominent as it could be; the mix of fabrics and prints elevated the good to iconic; and the opulence and elegance of the accessories and the way to style them and the garments were key—all ideas and concepts with which Michele can perfectly empathise and understand, and the proof of how much he did is in this collection.
Among his references, the Sfilata Bianca from 1968 was particularly mentioned by Alessandro, and in this collection, a signature of the house, the V-shaped metallic hardware, was seen for the first time. V’s that were incorporated by Alessandro in looks that appear as if they time-travelled from the past to the present, where tailored skirt suits and coats accompanied by extremely elegant and sophisticated head pieces, just like they did in the Sfilata, are captured along with the more eccentric looks. An iconic V monogram very used in the ‘70s and seen before in a shirt used by Jaqueline Kennedy was repurposed in suits and dresses, while the overall silhouettes, patterns, and shapes seem extracted directly from the wardrobe of a fabulously stylish Italian lady who lived her best life in that decade. The mastery of Alessandro in combining, styling, and elevating looks by using accessories and jewellery, the multiple models of bags and shoes that have been a Valentino staple for years, and the ability to be both referential and self-referential at the same time make this collection a good prelude for what is about to come.
There has been plenty of discourse on whether this looks just like Michele’s previous work at Gucci or not, and the phrase “it doesn’t look like Gucci, it looks like Alessandro” has been repeated a million times. Well, this does look like Gucci, the Gucci that Alessandro made, and there's nothing wrong about saying it. The thing is that our very narrow memory thinks that the whole history of a brand is defined by its latest years. When people get defensive about this not looking like Gucci, it makes it sound as if Gucci was only what Alessandro did, when in reality we all know every brand has its eras, and the Gucci of Alessandro is not the Gucci of Frida or the Gucci of Tom, in the same way that the Valentino of Alessandro won’t be the same as the Valentino of Pierpaolo. Comparisons are odious, but reality can't be denied. However, this sort of pre-collection works as a palate cleanser that allows debates to happen, but at the same time, establishes the undeniable nature of what we will witness next in Valentino: Michele doing what he knows best in a house with sufficient creative resources and a legacy behind it that allows him to be the creative force we’re used to seeing.