Valentino Spring 2016 Campaign shot in Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
Text: Bridget Foley
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli ’s spring Valentino show proved one of those rare fashion jewels, a show that transports you somewhere else, visually and emotionally — never an easy trick, especially at the end of a too-long fashion season. Inspired by African tribal motifs, the show felt uplifting in the ephemeral way that intense beauty of various genres can inspire.
Given the show’s impact, perhaps the designers felt greater pressure than usual to deliver a blockbuster campaign. Or maybe their African inspiration made the campaign’s location a no-brainer. Whatever the impetus, they knocked on the door of Steve McCurry, and he said yes.
McCurry is not your average rock-star fashion photographer. He’s not a fashion photographer at all, but the brilliant chronicler of far-flung cultures whose work became famous on the pages of National Geographic. His most iconic photograph: “Afghan Girl,” the magazine’s June 1985 cover. She mesmerized the world.
To Piccioli and Chiuri, he seemed like a natural. “Our emotions about African culture, the idea of beauty [achieved by] the interaction different cultures, the idea of tolerance, this is the message we wanted to deliver,” Piccioli says. “That’s why we wanted to shoot in Africa with Steve McCurry. He’s not a fashion photographer; he’s a culture reporter…we wanted to shoot not a fashion vision [of Africa], but more of a cultural vision — and not in a studio with an elephant.”
For the shoot, the designers and McCurry decided upon a Maasai village between Kenya and Tanzania, a location that filled several requirements. It is visually spectacular, with ample natural diversity. The Maasai people, many of whom appear in the pictures, project a strength and dignity manifested in their regal appearance, and their native attire had influenced the collection. The location met practical criteria as well. Those involved in the production deemed it safe (not all areas under consideration were), with sufficient resources (such as number of hotel rooms) in the vicinity to support the crew. And, as an oft-used location, permits and professional cooperation would be easily secured.
In describing Valentino’s African excursion, McCurry speaks not dispassionately, but with the specificity of an artist-clinician with a task at hand, while the designers invoke the language of pure idealism. “With this collection and campaign we wanted to speak about a different culture,” Chiuri says, noting that the European notions of beauty are rooted in classical Greek ideals. “We really believe that [cross-cultural understanding] improves our cultures…and with fashion it is possible to open eyes to learn something.”
Photos: Steve McCurry
( via wwd.com )