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Most Creative People

The Partnership That Built Valentino Into A $1 Billion Juggernaut

Maria Grazia Chiuri's and Pierpaolo Piccioli's advice on successful creative collaboration.

Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, left, and Pierpaolo Piccioli are longtime creative partners. “It’s important to maintain your differences,” Chiuri says.

[Photo: Dean Kaufman]

Since taking Valentino’s reins in 2008, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have reinvigorated the Rome-based brand, which nearly doubled its profit last year on revenue of more than $1 billion (with IPO rumors flying). Their strategy relies on careful balance—spiky metal studs and soft-edged elegance; love for the past and an embrace of the future.

Fast Company: How do you describe your vision for Valentino?
Chiuri: We are really proud of our heritage. But at the same time, we want to evolve. We introduce many different elements. In each woman and each man, there is something different. We want people to use our style in their personal way.
Piccioli: What we deliver is something that is authentic and close to our idea of beauty—effortless elegance. Rome is such a beautiful city. You can see lots of layers: the imperial Rome, the baroque, the Catholic, the cinematic aspect of Fellini. Everything lives together in a very special way. You don’t feel the effort. Everything is layered. Memory is in the present, but it is not nostalgic. The past is part of our present.

You’ve said that your first few seasons at the helm of Valentino were "horrible." What changed?
Chiuri: We had to learn to express ourselves. In the past, we were designers. We never had to describe why we had to make a dress in this way or that way. For me, I am very shy. It was so difficult. It’s still not easy today.
Piccioli: You have to deliver a vision of beauty. You have to be aware of what you are saying to make people understand. We had to learn to communicate in a universal language.

What are the biggest changes facing the fashion marketplace today—and how are you responding?
Chiuri: [With] the Internet—Instagram, websites—everything goes so fast. Now you can see a show immediately, in other parts of the world. At the same time, we want to maintain our values. So we work like in the past. We believe that for a luxury brand, time is a value. To do things in a way that is special, we need time.
Piccioli: It’s important to stay close to who you are and what you want to say, [to] use social media to deliver the message, not change the language itself. You need identity. You need your memory. If you lose who you are, you are lost in the world. Fashion is still a community of people who deliver messages. Fashion is not only about clothes—it is about what is beyond clothes. It is about culture.

You’ve worked together since 1989, starting at Fendi. What makes your partnership work so well—and do you have advice for other collaborators?
Chiuri: Every relationship needs respect. It’s important to maintain differences. Difference is a value, not a defect. You can argue. You make your point of view more strong.
Piccioli: Every relationship needs a moment to argue and to fight!
Chiuri: Many people ask us that. Maybe people want a fairy tale, but we are not a fairy tale. We are people!
Piccioli: Sometimes life is more interesting than a fairy tale.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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