WSJ: Giambattista Valli Leaps Into Menswear

Since Giambattista Valli established his Paris-based atelier in 2005, the Rome-born designer has become something of a go-to for a rapturous kind of femininity. Dresses—or more accurately, sorbet-colored gowns that appear to be fashioned from an explosion of tulle—are Valli’s calling card, and his contemporary couture creations have seduced a distinctly blue-blooded squad, Bianca Brandolini d’Adda, Eugenie Niarchos and the late Lee Radziwill, among them.

This sisterhood has been dubbed the Valli girls: glamorous women who can pull off a puffball dress on any night of the week. Giamba, as his closest friends call him, is also a designer of choice for their high-profile nuptials: In June, Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco wore one of his ethereal bridal gowns when she tied the knot with film producer Dimitri Rassam.

On November 7th, Valli brings his flamboyant touch to menswear for the first time. He’s the latest talent tapped by the Swedish fashion giant H&M for their annual high-profile designer collaboration. Valli previewed several of these styles at the amfAR gala in Cannes this past May. In the mix were price-friendly versions of his high-low hemmed, tiered tulle dresses on Kendall Jenner and the Italian blogger Chiara Ferragni, and a gray suit with black polka dots on the 23-year-old American actor and musician Ross Lynch. The entire pre-collection capsule sold out online for U.S. customers in just 10 minutes. (Such is the hysteria around H&M collaborations that many styles end up being resold as collectors’ items on eBay: One Giambattista Valli x H&M hot-pink minidress, originally retailed for $399 in May, is currently listed for $1,199.99.)

“We were a little bit nervous, because we’d never done it before,” says H&M’s creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson, who has headed up the designer collaborations since 2015 when the brand worked with Balmain, of the pre-release. “These are dressy clothes. They’re not easy to pull off, to be honest, but I think people just fall in love with those things, you know?”

So what, aside from a suit, will the Valli boys be wearing? “The boys are going to take from the girls’ wardrobe,” says Valli of his 43-piece men’s collection alongside around 60 pieces of womenswear. “I always have my eyes as a camera on this woman, so I just started to see who’s next to her: It could be her best friend, gay friend, boyfriend or someone close. So I see this group of kids, having fun together—I love to support ‘happy times.’ ”

Valli, 53, sits in his lavish Parisian atelier on Rue Boissy-d’Anglas, once the abode of the 17th-Century baroque musician and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. He’s dressed in his usual, inconspicuous get-up of head-to-toe black, with his lucky strand of pearls around his neck. While the highly decorative H&M men’s collection hanging in the next room doesn’t appear to reflect his own monochromatic wardrobe, there are some distinctly personal touches. Faux pearls that adorn the neckline of a printed sweat top, an imprint of his lips and his handwriting used throughout the collection as graphic motifs.

Also in the collection is a collarless shirt with a pink flower print, cut with blouse-like generosity, a leopard-print faux-fur coat and a black tailcoat lavishly trimmed with gold embroidery. The leather trousers and ornate hoodies for the men and women appear almost interchangeable. “Every single piece had to be full of the DNA of the house—it has to be exciting,” says Valli, who says he was impressed by the whole production process: “It was almost like working as a magician, to work with the fabrics and the construction and the industrial side within H&M, and to give it that couture flavor.”

Valli cut his teeth in the industry with the legendary Italian fashion designer Roberto Capucci, whose sculptural creations still clearly inform the designer’s distinctly architectural silhouettes. In 1990, the Fendi sisters recruited the budding designer to work on their successful, now-defunct lower-priced line Fendissime. After that, Valli moved to Paris to work with the couturier Emanuel Ungaro, eventually taking over as artistic director. By then, after many years of jobbing for other names, Valli decided to branch out on his own: first with his ready-to-wear line, before expanding into haute couture in 2011 and launching his own diffusion line, Giamba, in 2014. Throughout that period, he was the sole owner of the Maison—juggling fruitful projects as the designer for Moncler Gamme Rouge and collaborations with the likes of MAC Cosmetics on the side. In 2017, Valli sold a minority stake of his business to Kering’s holding company Groupe Artémis.

Valli’s highly worked designs are not widely accessible—a gown from the fall 2019 goes for $4,890 on Net-a-Porter—so with H&M, he’s visibly excited about offering up his vision to a wider audience—the most expensive ready-to-wear style, a coat, will retail at $399, while a baby-pink cotton T-shirt will cost just $29.99. “Not everyone can buy a lot of pieces,” he says, “but even someone with a small budget can buy something full of creativity.”

WSJ Magazine: Sheila Hicks