When it was announced in May that Giambattista Valli would be the next H&M collaborator, it was clear he was going to do things differently. At a photocall at the amFAR Gala during the Cannes Film Festival, Valli appeared alongside his muses – including Kendall Jenner, Chris Lee, Chiara Ferragni and Ross Lynch dressed in Giambattista Valli x H&M, a limited-edition drop of which was made available in selected stores and online two days later, selling out in minutes. “I couldn’t believe so many people worldwide knew the brand,” he tells Vogue when we meet in Rome for an exclusive preview of the collection ahead of the full drop in November. “H&M wanted the enthusiasm of the first collaboration with Karl [Lagerfeld], so I wanted to revolutionise it from the beginning.”
After honing his skills with couturier Roberto Capucci, Valli went on to work for Fendi and then Emanuel Ungaro, before launching his eponymous brand in 2005, gaining couture status in 2011. Since then, the likes of Rihanna, Ariana Grande and Emma Stone have sent paparazzi into a frenzy in his effervescent red-carpet dresses. Now the 53-year-old is bringing a touch of that unadulterated glamour to the high street.
A very Roman holiday
Valli is such a mainstay of Paris’s show schedules you could be forgiven for forgetting he is in fact Roman. “I come from Rome, I grew up here,” he says. “The city has a very strong DNA, a kind of eccentricity, effortlessness and timeless feel. It’s part of the story of the house.”
The H&M campaign stars Ferragni, Jenner and Lee, and was photographed Mert and Marcus in a private garden in Rome and at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, which boasts one of the world’s most enviable art collections comprising works by Caravaggio, Raphael and Velázquez. “I wanted to show this girl who now lives in LA, Shanghai or Berlin and comes home to Rome with a group of friends, they’re staying at a palazzo and getting ready for a party,” he says of the unashamedly decadent concept behind the campaign. “I’m not a designer who dresses someone to go to work — my community is very jetset. I love this idea of people being comfortable moving from one country to another; one culture to another.”
Hoodies embellished with rhinestone floral motifs, elaborate necklaces embroidered into the collar of marl sweatshirts, a leather bomber with a shearling collar — there’s a familiar air of a princess-gone-rogue in these contrasts between refinement and athleticism.
Clothes you wear, not clothes that wear you
With the exception of perhaps six statement party gowns — one a riot of vermillion tulle, the others a botanist’s dream (embroidered, with appliqué flowers or in pleated floral-print fabric) – the collection’s versatile separates and dresses are easily assimilated into a wardrobe. “I don’t work in fashion, I work more in style,” says Valli. “I want to give people the support they need to style clothes their own way and be comfortable; fashion can be too dictated by a ‘look’. When I design, I leave space for people to fill with their personality.”
After the limited-edition drop in May, Valli delighted in scrolling through Instagram to see how customers interpreted the clothes. “I love it when people feel in balance with themselves, it’s the most elegant thing,” he says. “I hate it when luxury houses make people feel they need to buy something, or else you aren’t cool. What I want to do in fashion is inspire people. ”
Meet the Giambattista Valli man
Valli describes his first foray into menswear as “very autobiographical”. A classic Levi’s jean jacket he wore as a child was the starting point for a denim coat with military detailing and faux sheepskin lining. Meanwhile, a portrait by an unknown Flemish artist that hangs in Valli’s Paris home was adapted into a print that features on a raincoat, scarf and duffle bag. “The menswear is for a man who goes into a woman’s wardrobe and gets dressed up — somebody who likes more androgynous clothes — normally it’s the other way around, so I thought it would be nice to do something different,” he says. “I like to remove the etiquette surrounding he and she, and think about creativity and freedom. I thought about who the Valli girl surrounds herself with. There is a fluidity, with the women wearing one of the men’s jackets. Everybody’s free to interpret it their own way.”
Acting as a thread of continuity with the old Dutch masters are rococo embroideries that slalom down the legs of trousers and the opening of a military tailcoat, as well as imitation pearls studded along the neckline of a black sweatshirt. “It’s funny,” he says, “pearls look so bourgeois on a little black dress. But when they’re on a man’s black sweater, they become outrageous. I always wear a string of pearls, it’s my lucky charm. I can be standing next to someone covered in tattoos and piercings, but people will look at my pearls.” Then there’s the leopard print, which until now Valli admits was “a very couture idea” to him, so he upended this notion and has used the pattern on jogging pants and T-shirts.
From haute couture to high street
Just because the clothes aren’t haute couture, Valli insists they are no less considered: “yes, the designs are in a different fabric to what I normally use and will be sold at different prices, but everything has a meaning, down to the most simple sweatshirt.” He gestures towards the model Oslo Grace who is dressed in bleached jeans, flowery socks, creepers and a marshmallow-pink hoodie. The ‘love’ motif, emblazoned on socks, a handbag and men’s T-shirts, is how Valli closes his letters, while the lip belt buckle and bag clasp are modelled on his own mouth.
“The collection is an a,b,c of what I’ve done up until now,” says the designer. “I’m couture, I’m ready-to-wear, a mix of everything. I want people to be able to wear one of my couture jackets over jeans. I like the idea of H&M in front of a Caravaggio.” This desire to create clothes that won’t dilute the DNA of a brand without beating personal style into submission is a quest for authenticity, as Valli concludes: “I don’t want Giambattista Valli x H&M to be a parody. I’m a perfectionist; I want the collection to be totally faithful and honest to the customer.”
The Giambattista Valli x H&M collection is in selected H&M stores and online from 7 November 2019.