The JCC Angle
- In the past three years, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada have all hosted large-scale Shanghai exhibitions aimed at Millennial and Gen Z audiences. Tapping into the popularity of contemporary art experiences allows luxury brands to expand their image. Chinese cultural institutions willingly share their cultural cache in exchange for generous financial compensation.
- From giant LED screens to dazzling mirror rooms, Valentino’s RE-SIGNIFY is explicitly an experiential exhibition, the likes of which are wildly popular in Tier 1 Chinese cities and are made for young urbanites to “check in” (打卡) with posts on social media.
On the of December 18, the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art was shrouded in flaming red — not ordinary red, mind you — the Valentino red.
The color was chosen for VALENTINO RE-SIGNIFY — an interactive, themed exhibition and the first of its kind Valentino has held in China.
The museum is divided into 12 different themed spaces, and all the classic Valentino elements (rivets, roses, and haute couture dresses) can be found here, with artworks by ten international contemporary artists from Valentino’s collection interspersed among them.
“I want the audience to feel both confused and curious after the exhibition,” said one of the show’s two curators, Jacopo Bedussi, to Jing Daily. “They can let go of their past knowledge of fashion and embrace the infinite possibilities. Bedussi suggested that the title RE-SIGNIFY represents how one can think or act differently depending on the occasion — an intriguing premise, even for those who aren’t familiar with Valentino’s history. “Without nostalgia, celebrity effects, and other means that are usually combined with fashion exhibitions, this exhibition is composed of everyone’s personal code, and the combinations of codes can create new inspiration and creativity,” he added.
Valentino wants to make the exhibition an interactive, branded experience. Normally, communication between the exhibition and the audience is a one-way affair that reflects the curator’s ideas about a certain theme, while the audience passively absorbs the information. However, RE-SIGNIFY is more of an experience — or an open dialogue — that invites visitors to express different ideas and add personal interpretations.
Founded in Rome by Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti in 1960, Valentino set out to represent a fashionable and aristocratic lifestyle. It has always upheld traditional feminine charm and the highest forms of luxury. In fact, the brand is under the patronage of a select group of noble ladies with whom Valentino has prominent status.
But these days, luxury consumption is open to the masses and not just a privileged few in upper-class society. As such, Valentino needs a new definition for his brand. Pierpaolo Piccioli, who took over as Valentino’s creative director in 2016, changed the brand’s logo to make it more recognizable. The brand has connected with the younger generations by collaborating with Moncler to produce down material dresses and produced virtual suits for the video game “Assemble! Animal Crossing.”
In 2010 — when Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri (now Dior Women’s Creative Director) were the joint creative directors of Valentino — the brand launched a new element: the Rockstud (studded rivets). This year, Piccioli has upgraded the Rockstud. The rivets appear on shoes, bags, and skirts (even in oversized forms).
In the exhibition, the “Underground Club” is a space entirely walled by Valentino rivets, lost in a realm between punk and bourgeois, hedonism and minimalism.
In 2020, Piccioli’s other Valentino upgrade was the rose. Roses have always been Valentino’s favorite element (brand founder Valentino Garavani designed a rose-red dress for his haute couture series back in 1959). But now, Piccioli’s new Atelier series has transformed the rose, thanks to upgrades in the manufacturing process that make the petals look more authentic and refined. On the Atelier handbags, each layer of rose is composed of five petals, creating a charming three-dimensional flower pattern. Each petal is hand-made and stitched together piece by piece.
The studio space within the exhibition is a tribute to roses. LED screens show the life cycle of the rose as it buds, blooms, and withers, while the red roses dress designed by Valentino Garavani in 1959 sits in the center of the room.
While Valentino may no longer pursue such a rarified luxury lifestyle, it hopes to serve women who share a common philosophy. “The word ‘lifestyle’ is too old for me,” said Piccioli in an interview. “I prefer the concept of community. I hope to transform the Valentino brand from an exclusive brand to an inclusive brand while retaining the core value of the brand, which is high-precision and romantic.”
He believes that people don’t have to purchase haute couture to be able to appreciate it, like with art. “Valentino originated from high-end, which is a very important value of the brand,” said the Valentino CEO, Stefano Sassi, in a public conversation last April. “Our task is to find a balance between fashion and history, showing that the brand is still cool, modern, and young.”
In this exhibition, the most impressive objects are the three giant couture dresses. The plaza area was inspired by Roman square culture, and the two buildings echo the opened curtain, creating a sense of architectural symmetry. Under the curtain, there are three gowns from the 2020/2021 Fall/Winter series that are each 4.5 meters high, with every detail enlarged. Here the audience can experience advanced customization up close.
Valentino showed the importance of the Chinese market by holding its first brand exhibition in Shanghai. At the end of last year, the brand also held a high-profile exhibition in China and opened a flagship store in Sanlitun district in Beijing. Both events took place around the same time, and the tremendous energy displayed by young Chinese luxury consumers helped clarify the brand’s positioning in local markets.
In 2017, Valentino signed Chinese singer Lay Zhang as its brand ambassador. Starting this September, the Chinese actress Tang Yan became an ambassador, along with Zendaya, who was named Valentio’s global brand ambassador this December. Valentino wants these young brand ambassadors to deliver a vibe of self-expression, strong personal beliefs, and freedom of fashion.
This past April, Valentino launched its new Valentino Garavani SuperVee Bag comics series, which presented its new “V” bag style in the form of comics. The story is divided into three chapters, created by three different cartoonists. The young cartoonists drew inspiration from stories written by the Italian journalist Jacopo Bedussi and created them in their own unique styles.
Tokyo-based artist Mebachi opens the first chapter of the story. Her works vary from editorial cartoons to music illustrations, and she is versed in the art of video game animation. The second chapter was created by the Chinese Gen-Z cartoonist Felicity Bang. She travels between Paris and Shanghai, producing comics and illustrations for Bang Bang Motion Studio. Bang, who represents the vibe of China’s Gen Z, is famous for telling youthful stories in a post-internet, retro-futurist style. The story is closed by Kim Jung-Youn, a student cartoonist from Seoul, South Korea. Jung-Youn’s work is based on the Japanese sports manga series “Slam Dunk,” and he is moved by post-90s sports stars. His anime story focuses on Gen Z-ers, drawn in his unique retro style.
The brand also connected with young consumers by reinterpreting the traditional game Cube into a post-internet form. Viewers can participate in the challenge of unlocking the cube on your mobile phone and unlock your own “heartbeat methodology,” which includes a list of your own attributes and love skills. The player gets a poster showing four different love titles, which can be shared on social media.
Bedussi said that the exhibition was planned for young people, so they needed to consider what would be new and compelling for young people. “For example, the rivet element is relatively new in the history of the brand, but it has been around for ten years,” he said. “For young people in their early twenties, they will feel that this is already a common fashion element. So when you lead them to find the origin of the rivet and trace its development process, it will be very interesting.”
Translated by Chenyue Fu