What started as mere flirtation has blossomed into something more meaningful.

By Eric Wilson
Updated Jun 13, 2019 @ 8:00 am
Credit: Courtesy Valentino

At a time when cross-pollination is the latest buzzword of disruption, collaborations are a dime a dozen, but the mash-up taking place between Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli and Undercover’s Jun Takahashi may well be a fashion bromance for the ages.

What started as mere flirtation, when Takahashi was among several artists who created items for Valentino’s magnificent pre-fall show in Tokyo last November, has blossomed into something more meaningful, as Piccioli featured a substantial number of Takahashi’s prints in both his fall men’s and women’s collections, and Takahashi showed some of them in his own men’s show as well. While it’s hardly unusual for an insider streetwear label like Undercover to relate to a couture house like Valentino in contemporary fashion, the depth of their partnership seemed an inviting opportunity to explore just what a dialogue between two creative cooks might sound like.

Credit: Courtesy Valentino

“Long silence, eye contact, shy smile, then drawing,” Piccioli says in his typically florid Italian manner. “The sound comes from the pencil, I guess. We do not speak that loud.”

Takahashi, more enigmatic in the Japanese custom, describes the conversation as “searching for the common beauty in each other’s work.”

Their story started with Valentino’s show in Tokyo, which coincided with the reopening of its Ginza flagship. In addition to Takahashi, Piccioli had invited other Japanese artists — including Izumi Miyazaki, who creates whimsical self-portrait photography, and Ichiyu Terai, whose cypress-wood Noh masks are painted using traditional whitewashing techniques — to contribute designs for the store. He also asked streetwear labels Undercover and Doublet to make products. Takahashi, who is responsible for a popular running collection for Nike in addition to his avant-garde Undercover collections, offered chic leather pouches decorated with illustrations that suggest modified medieval and Renaissance masterworks. Piccioli describes him as “a real punk — I love this!"

Credit: Courtesy Valentino

“I wanted to narrate a cultural phenomenon that involves our perception of beauty and the way in which people today are not as constrained by codes, styles, and languages,” Piccioli says. “Streetwear and couture can happily cohabit.”

Takahashi says the appeal of collaboration is to work with someone who does something he does not. He had admired Piccioli and “how he pursues beauty through clothing” but had not met him prior to the Tokyo event. “It was an invisible conversation in a way,” says Takahashi. “He gave me a subject, and I answered with designs.” Once Piccioli asked him to work on the fall shows, the duo began conversing directly. “Pierpaolo gave me some poetry, and I made the graphics based on this,” Takahashi says. “I emailed him when I was done to check that the direction was right and asked for his opinion.” Piccioli gave Takahashi carte blanche.

Credit: Getty Images

And the results were remarkable. For the men’s show Takahashi combined images of UFOs and Edgar Allan Poe, which were splashed across the fronts of Piccioli’s tailored outerwear, knits, and a hoodie. For the women’s collection, which was inspired in part by the street-art movement that anonymously posts poetry as graffiti in urban spaces, Takahashi used an image of a classical sculpture of a couple embracing and added roses and, rather ominously, chains. “Roses are beautiful, but they also have thorns,” Takahashi says. “I am always attracted to this kind of duality, and this is at least why I chose them.”

Credit: Courtesy Valentino

One element that defines Piccioli’s vision for Valentino is its inclusivity, evidenced not only by his desire to showcase other perspectives on his runways but also by his diverse model castings, particularly at a groundbreaking spring couture show in January that prominently featured black women. Another is his devotion to romanticism, a quality he discovered he shared with Takahashi, whose imaginary worlds are a constant source of fascination.

“The thing that interests me the most about collaborating with a designer like Jun is not the technical creative process in itself but the human exchange and, in our case, the cultural dialogue,” Piccioli says. “That’s how you continuously learn and teach.”

Credit: Courtesy Valentino

Well, it’s fair to say they found some common beauty, along with a harmony between high-end fashion and the street. Anything else, gentlemen?

“Other than that,” Takahashi says, “we’re just regular fathers and human beings seeking freedom.”

For more stories like this, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download June 14.