Giambattista Valli, the Ultimate Women’s Couturier, on Making His First Menswear Collection

H&M’s collaboration with Valli, a marquee name in European fashion and a couturier to boot, also comes at a pivotal moment for fast fashion. After Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, a number of journalists and industry observers seemed to sense that this was the end for fast fashion. But collaborations with major European designers, like Donatella Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, are what first burnished H&M’s reputation as a major fashion player—and in fact, H&M group’s net sales increased by 11% in the first half of 2019. (H&M group includes other brands such as Cos and & other stories.)

The fast-fashion collection seems like a savvy way for Valli to experiment with menswear (which, as a luxury proposition, has become an incredibly crowded market over the past 15 months). He said he truly wants his impact to be on style, not fashion—which makes a fast-fashion partner, with its unique ability to tap into multiple trends at once, a natural partner for this endeavour. He loves the way international markets are disrupting the “diktats” that European runways once delivered, he said, with new ways of dressing and trends coming from Asia, and next, he said, from Africa. “It’s like opening a window—we have fresh air on style, and I love that.”

Giambattista Valli the Ultimate Womens Couturier on Making His First Menswear Collection

Nothing speaks to Valli’s philosophy better than the H&M collection’s strand of (faux) pearls, a reference to the signature he’s worn with black t-shirts basically every day of his career. He started wearing a pearl necklace in the ’90s, admiring the opulence of men’s jewelry, and in the spirit of maharajas. “And I have to tell you, 15 years ago, if I was sitting next to someone with a ton of piercings, in a public place, for sure all the people were looking at me with the pearls.” It taught him that “it can be the most boring thing, like this single [string of] pearls, but you [do] an unlikely way to look at it and it becomes extraordinary.”

When asked whether the idea of couture-indebted fantastical fashion is becoming newly attractive to the menswear market, he said, “It’s extremely suitable for men. I think it’s so important, because the new generation really believes that there is not one idea of what men [are] supposed to be.” A person could wear “a string of pearls instead of a tie,” he suggested. Style is about exploring new avenues of expression, new concepts of identity, he added. “I love the idea, not to dress the physical point of view, but the mind.”

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