Valentino des ateliers”, a sign calls to you in downtown Doha, in the elegant Msheireb district, now known as the “Doha design district”. There is no display case, just a door under a porch that invites you to step through. But tours are only by appointment, which makes the discoveries even more exclusive, the wait more delicious, and the guided exploration of Pierpaolo Piccioli’s most lavish creations for the current year a particularly privileged moment.

The door does open immediately, and the creator awaits the public a little further away, in an auditorium of the National Museum of Qatar, between the mineral petals of a magnificent structure in the shape of a sand rose created by Jean Nouvel.

“Fashion influences perceptions and mentalities”

On the stage, three comfortable armchairs around a coffee table will host an open-ended conversation, moderated by Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, chair, among things, of the museums of Qatar, and co-chair of Fashion Trust Arabia, a woman dubbed by The Economist as “the Qatar queen of culture”. Opposite her is a beaming Naomi Campbell, wrapped in a blue Valentino feather stole. To her right is Pierpaolo Piccioli, with a sleepless gaze and wearing city pajamas in chocolate silk trimmed in white.

Despite the presence of several dozen spectators in the room, the exchange seems to be taking place in private, between three long-time friends who share the same passions. Sheikha Al Mayassa launches the debate by asking the model and the designer about their own friendship: how long have they known each other, how did they meet? Piccioli remembers a show, in an Italy plagued by a new wave of xenophobic violence, where he decided to pose fashion for what it is, something beyond clothing: a language in its own right that can influence perceptions and mindsets. His response to the toxic state of mind being given expression all around him had been to hire as many models of color as possible.

DOHA, QATAR – NOVEMBER 03: Naomi Campbell and Pierpaolo Piccioli, Creative Director of Valentino, participate in a public talk moderated by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, during #QatarCreates at the National Museum of Qatar on November 3, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. #QatarCreates is a cultural celebration connecting the fields of art, fashion, and design through a diverse program of exhibitions, awards, public talks, and special events, all taking place in the heart of Doha. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Qatar Museums )

“I know where I’m from, and I’m proud of it”

The discussion rebounds to inclusiveness. They have known each other since the 1990s, and the two friends are moved and inspired by each other. That Piccioli parade had required four months of casting. When Campbell found out what he was doing, she had just landed in Paris following a trip to China, she started calling all her acquaintances to entice them to come. “The message of fashion today is no longer lifestyle but community, sharing,” Piccioli insists. On her role as a model, Campbell confides that on her debut, she had the chance to be supervised by Katoucha, at Saint Laurent, and that in turn she would like to take advantage of her visibility to help young talents by wearing their creations. She says she wants to remain this “old-fashioned” model, in the sense that she sees her role as being in close concert with the designer: “I always wonder what I can bring them, how to convey their story. During the photoshoots, it is important for me to show the design,” she says.

For his part, when questioned by Sheikha Al Mayassa on what advice he’d give to young Arab talents, Piccioli insisted on the importance of not imitating anyone, of seeking one’s own identity, of telling one’s own story. He stresses that diversity is not enough, that it is important to add value to it, and also to develop the craftsmanship of each culture. “You have to study,” he insists, “without culture, without education, you can only make copies”. Speaking of his own journey, Piccioli says: “Museums are important in helping to understand culture. I come from a small place near Rome. I didn’t have access to culture, but I dreamed of it. My approach has always been that I know where I’m from and I’m proud of it.”

“Proud of our cultures”

Bouncing onto the haute-couture abayas created by Piccioli, Sheikha Al Mayassa asks the designer how he went about making them, and the challenges he faced. “The challenge was mostly in the approach,” said Piccioli. “I had to understand, not just replicate the form. I had to enter the culture that surrounds the abaya from my own culture. To understand what a “modest” garment is, and infuse it with my sensitivity and my personal history. Keeping the shape, because that’s where the meaning is, analyzing the basic technique and adding the couture touch.”

The three interlocutors together conclude on the importance of respecting individual choices and particularities. Campbell insists that the fashion industry will never be inclusive if it turns its back on idiosyncrasies. She emphasizes the elegance of Arab women. “In the end, we must be proud of our cultures, without the feeling that we always have to fit into other frames,” said Sheikha Al Mayassa, stressing the importance of “starting from the local to reach the global”.

The moment has finally arrived to push open this door which leads to the sacred space of the Qatar Design District, a gigantic white cube flooded with light, to first discover the haute couture collection for winter 2022. The famous couture abayas are on display in a cube inside a cube. You have to accept to be guided on this initiatory journey by the collaborators of Valentino who watch your amazed gaze with amusement.

The first delight – almost a shock – comes from the colors. Ah, those colors! These superimpositions, a skillful palette of primaries, complemented, irradiated by the purest silks, the most beautiful cashmere, these architectural forms, these volumes which respond to and exalt each other. Your guides watch for a paroxysm of dizziness when you are finally introduced to the holy of holies. There, window mannequins dressed in Valentino couture abayas specially made for the Qatar Creates 2021 event, seem to be silently celebrating an imaginary party.

The collection is exclusive, of course, but it contains such generosity, such a love for beautiful work that it seems made just for you, for everyone, as a contribution to the beauty of the world. Strangely, you leave the scene slowly, like leaving a museum, nurtured, enlarged, happy.

Abayas from another world

The couture abayas are revealed within a special installation of fifteen unique pieces that evoke the spirit of Valentino Haute Couture, relying on the alchemical process of the Atelier’s work. Piccioli translates the color layering, the full and empty portions into lines, cuts, and compositional gestures. All the abayas are in vibrant colors and have long and layered silhouettes. The virtuosity of the workmanship dissolves in ineffable, effortless lightness.

• “Giuseppe, Riccardo, Maria Laura, Sara A., Giulia G.”

Deep fuchsia wool crêpe couture abaya, with ton sur ton velvet neck and volant at the bottom. Fuchsia crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Debora, Maria Cristina, Nina, Bianca, Cristiana”

Rope organza couture abaya with silver embroidery with contrasting cherry red crêpe marocain lining. Bordeaux crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Anna, Elena C., Maria Cristina, Paola”

Orange cashmere couture abaya with ton sur ton velvet stole, embroidered with silver sequins on the inside. Orange crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Cinzia, Federica R., Michela, Chiara C., Giulia G.”

Petrol green faille couture abaya with a large rouche and bow on the neck. Peacock green crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Michela, Federica R., Nicoletta, Maria Sole, Chiara C.”

Purple wool crepella hooded couture abaya, entirely embroidered with sequins and velvet details ton sur ton. Bordeaux crêpe marocain long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Maddalena, Chiara Z., Giulia M., Eleonora, Elena S.”

Milk white embroidered light crêpe couture abaya, with ton sur ton velvet neck. Milk white crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Viviana, Floriana, Giulia G., Cinzia, Federica R., Maria Sole”

Embossed gold lurex couture abaya embroidered, with pale rose light cashmere lining. Long hooded gown with long sleeves, embroidered all-over with gold sequins on a poudre stretch georgette.

• “Alessandro, Caterina, Laura, Giuseppina”

Off shoulder bluette cashmere couture abaya, with silver micro-sequins embroidery on the sleeves and on the inside. Light blue crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Fernando, Maria Grazia, Serena, Sabina, Samanta”

Bordeaux faille couture abaya with bows on the sleeves. Long hooded dress with long sleeves entirely embroidered with pink sequins on poudre tulle.

• “Serena, Samanta, Sabina, Fernando, Federica P.”

Coral red cashmere cape couture abaya with stole embroidered with silver sequins on the inside. Ton sur ton crêpe skirt, hood and sleeves.

• “Maria Luigia, Stefania, Samanta, Federica P.”

Pearl grey crêpe and cashmere couture abaya, scarf and hood embroidered with gold sequins on the inside. Peacock green crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Maria, Ylenia, Luca, Alessio”

Acqua effect cape abaya entirely embroidered with crystals on poudre and silver lace.

• “Oriana, Francesco, Luca, Alessio, Maria D.”

Prune long couture abaya, crêpella on the top, embroidered inside pleats with mini silver-sequins, and velvet at the bottom. Purple crêpe marocain long hooded gown with long embroidered sleeves.

• “Daniela A., Francesca, Silvia S., Maria D., Ylenia, Annamaria”

Faille cherry red couture abaya with wide volant. Cyclamen red crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.

• “Maria R., Sara L., Stefano”

Honey couture abaya embroidered all-over, with wool on the inside sleeves and ton sur ton lurex details on the neck. Honey crêpe long hooded gown with long sleeves.