One of fashion’s most powerful design duos have officially gone their separate ways as Valentino has today confirmed the departure of Mara Grazia Chiuri leaving her long-time collaborator Pierpaolo Piccioli at the helm of the Italian luxury house. An announcement concerning Chiuri’s appointment to the chief designer role at Dior is expected imminently.
But will Piccioli be as a big a success as a solo artist as he was as part of a super-successful duo? It’s certainly quite possible as some of fashion’s biggest names started out as part of a double-act.
Chiuri and Piccioli’s collaboration goes back 25 years. They met through mutual friends and initially worked together at Fendi before being appointed as accessories designers at Valentino in 1999. Following founder of the house Valentino Garavani’s retirement in 2007 the duo were appointed as co-creative directors in 2008.
While the brand had always been a hit on the red carpet (and on mediterranean yachts) Piccolo and Chiuri made it a huge success in the all-important and highly lucrative luxury accessories space too. Their “Rockstud” collection of shoes and bags have been a commercial and creative hit and are still going strong.
Chiuri’s departure is no surprise as she is widely tipped to be taking over as creative director at Dior, succeeding Raf Simons (himself believed to be sitting out a non-compete clause before being announced as creative director at Calvin Klein), which would make her the first ever woman to be chief designer at the storied French fashion house.
What was not necessarily certain was that Piccioli would helm Valentino solo but given the success of the duo’s accessories it is perhaps reassuring to Valentino fans (and investors) that he will be staying. Whether he can create the magic of the partnership on his own remains to be seen but there is a precedent for design partnerships in fashion to enjoy continued success when they decide to take their careers in different directions as these examples demonstrate.
Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo
Friends and fellow Central Saint Martins alumni McCartney and Philo both made the journey to Paris when McCartney was appointed head of French fashion house Chloé in 1997. Philo was McCartney’s design assistant and right-hand woman and when McCartney was offered the opportunity by Gucci Group to set up her own label in 2001, it was at first assumed Philo would go with her but instead stayed and headed up Chloé herself, very successfully, until 2006.
After a short career break (she wanted to return to London), Philo was offered the chief designer role at Céline and has turned the brand into a by-word for understated luxe chic. Her designs are now among the most watched (and most copied) of any in the market. Rumours circulated earlier this year that Philo may be about to stand down but so far they have come to nothing.
McCartney’s career meanwhile has reached even more stellar heights. Her label, which includes womenswear, kidswear, lingerie and accessories, is now celebrating its 15th year and it was recently revealed that she would be adding menswear to the line-up. In addition McCartney has a long-standing collaboration with Adidas on a highly successful sportswear line and has designed the kit for Team GB for both the London and Rio Olympics.
Alexander McQueen and Sarah Burton
It is fair to say that Burton had stayed very much in the background when the outrageously talented Alexander McQueen was head of his own house. At least as far as the press was concerned anyway. She had joined McQueen as an intern having graduated from the same college as McQueen, Central Saint Martins, in 1997.
She quickly established a unique rapport with the designer and was appointed head of womenswear in 2000 designing dresses for the likes of Michelle Obama, Cate Blanchett and Lady Gaga along the way.
Tragedy struck in 2010 when Lee Alexander McQueen took his own life at the age of just 40. Parent company of the house, Gucci, confirmed that the McQueen brand would live on and for a while it seemed inconceivable that anyone could possibly take over from such a unique talent. When Burton was announced as his successor it felt right and proper but there were question marks as to whether she could achieve the same success as her mentor.
All doubts were cast aside however when it was revealed, only on the day of the wedding itself, that Kate Middleton had commissioned Burton to design her wedding dress for her April 2011 marriage to Prince William. The dress, and indeed that of her sister and maid of honour Pippa Middleton, was a critical hit and Burton’s reputation was assured.
The signs therefore are good for Piccoli at Valentino. Going it alone has been the making of some of the biggest names in fashion. And, as for Chiuri, a woman at the helm of Dior is an exciting prospect and we are expecting big things of the shoes and bags, in particular…