If there’s some truth to the saying ”opposites attract” the collaboration between H&M and designer Giambattista Valli is certainly proof of it. Bringing together a fast-fashion giant and a designer with an haute couture sensibility, a well-heeled posse of beautiful It girls, and an aesthetic with a decidedly exclusive flavor, could’ve come closer to an epic cultural clash than to a match made in heaven.
“It’s indeed a collaboration rather out of the ordinary,” acknowledged Valli during a preview. What excited him most was precisely the challenge of embracing parameters at odds with his usual repertoire. Addressing issues of inclusivity and diversity, which are obviously de rigueur in a partnership with a mass-market juggernaut, was too exciting an opportunity to miss. Then, of course, there was the appeal of reaching a larger, younger Gen Z audience, with its long lines of eager customers waiting outside H&M stores to grab the collection as soon as it hits the shop floor.
The show was staged in Rome, amidst the splendor of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj’s gilded salons. “It felt rather autobiographical, a sort of coming full circle,” Valli said. Rome has been a real crucible of ethnicities throughout the centuries, so it was an apt choice to highlight the cross-cultural, gender-fluid nature of his take on the collaboration’s narrative. “I imagined the story of a Roman girl who after traveling the world—to LA, Berlin, India, London, wherever—comes back here to spend a fun weekend with her crowd of talented, artsy friends,” said the designer, who left Rome at a very young age for Paris, where he now lives. “It’s an independent mental posture, a free-spirited cultural attitude which I’d like to support,” he continued. “We have people today who are building walls and closing borders, but the younger generations want to tear them down and live with a cultural horizon free of obstacles.” The diverse cast of characters was as inclusive and metropolitan as if it were made while “riding the subway in one of the big international cities,” Valli said.
As a consequence to this approach, the collection marked Valli’s first foray into menswear. Usually it’s the girl borrowing from her boyfriend, but “now it goes the other way around, Kurt Cobain-style,” he said. The designer’s hyper-feminine vernacular of embellished frills and plissé-tulle concoctions was given a gender-neutral makeover. Oversized masculine sweats were printed with carpet-like feminine florals and strings of pearls—a Valli signature—became decorative accents on black jumpers or dissolved as embellishments on roomy hoodies and fishnet stockings worn by guys with shiny Doc Martens. All-over leopard print, one of the designer’s “obsessions,” as he put it, was abundantly proffered on fake fur city coats paired with rave-ready slim pants and zippered hoodies.
All-over sequined, glittery tailored suits and Napoleon-inspired, golden-embroidered tuxedos were a romantic evening option. Tulle tutus abounded for girls, in as many dramatic iterations as conceivable, with fascinators adding a dash of old-world sophistication. These were glamorously bookended by a mini pink version opener on Kendall Jenner and an asymmetrical red concoction on Vittoria Ceretti, closing the show. The Valli-fication of H&M looked indeed rather fabulous.
Ann-Sofie Johansson, H&M creative advisor, praised Giambattista Valli’s magical dresses and masterful way with glamour” as one of the key ingredients of this collaboration. “Our customers will be thrilled to become a Valli girl, or boy,” she said. “We know that glamour sells really well.”