Can Alessandro Michele’s Archive-Inspired Designs Make Valentino Contemporary?


Strongly rooted in Valentino’s archive references, Alessandro Michele’s Avant-Début collection sparked fierce debate. Want to understand it better? Take a look at La vita delle forme - Filosofia del reincanto (2024), the book co-authored by Michele and philosopher Emanuele Coccia



By Giulia Piceni. Cover image: courtesy HarperCollins.

Taste is subjective, and a personal opinion cannot be considered true criticism. Since Alessandro Michele presented 171 outfits for his pre-debut at Valentino, the internet audience has been divided, with some praising him and others harshly criticising him. Comments like “It was to be expected,” “Nothing new,” and “He should start his own brand and stop ruining others’ archives” have appeared under posts, videos, and TikToks from fashion commentators and experts.

Alessandro Michele’s Aesthetic: Love It or Hate It?

Michele’s aesthetic may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, his ability to create a unique universe that adapts to the brand he’s working with, leaving his stylistic mark without compromising its essence, is undeniably admirable.
To better understand the outfits that Michele presented, this article references a recently published philosophical book – La vita delle forme – Filosofia del reincanto (2024). In the book, the designer and contemporary philosopher Emanuele Coccia discusses the nature of creating fashion today and how it embodies the most modern form of philosophising

Exploring the Contemporary in Fashion: Michele and Agamben

The concept of “being contemporary” is a recurring topic in philosophy that influences discussions in the art world. Giorgio Agamben – a philosopher that Alessandro Michele quoted in the press release about his first runway show at Gucci – attempted to explore this concept. Our publication recently interviewed a key figure in today’s art landscape, who strives to uphold the elusive idea of the contemporary through their work.

Avant les Débuts: Michele’s Take on Valentino’s Archives

With the recent unveiling of Avant les Débuts, a collection of 171 outfits inspired by Valentino’s archives, Alessandro Michele has once again brought his unique interpretation of contemporary fashion to the runway. The creative mind behind this collection couldn’t wait for the official debut in Paris on September 29: there was too much to express, too many pieces yearning to come to life.
So, what does being contemporary mean to Alessandro Michele? For the newly appointed creative director of Valentino, it means transcending the present while also representing it. He believes that the contemporary exists across the three temporal planes of past, present, and future, which we often mistakenly view as separate entities. During his time at Gucci from 2016 to 2022, Michele demonstrated a vision of the contemporary that involved a continuous fascination with the past to shape a forward-looking version of ourselves.

Alessandro Michele and Emanuele Coccia: Fashion as Philosophy

In his book, co-authored with philosopher Emanuele Coccia, Michele describes this as “the most radical and complete form of artistic practice”. Known for his profound fascination with the past – anything distant, old, archaic, and even ancestral – Michele sees the Zeitgeist as highly subjective. When two eras coexist within a single garment, Michele refers to this imaginary epoch as an “open experience”: familiar yet disorienting, seductive yet unsettling.

Valentino’s Archival Influence on Michele’s Work

Although undeniably influential in the vintage culture revival, his creations have often been misinterpreted as tributes to a past the creative director has never directly experienced, except through artistic expressions such as cinema, art, and fashion. His creative efforts are often viewed as nostalgic, seemingly unable to move beyond their foundational principles.
Valentino, with its extensive archives, is an abundant source of knowledge and inspiration for the creative directors of the Roman house and occasional visitors alike, all under the watchful eye of the enigmatic Violante. It’s no surprise that a brand with deep roots in its heritage, reaching its peak in the 1970s, would be a perfect match for Michele. As noted by various media outlets, journalists, TikTok commentators, and fashion enthusiasts in their conversations over drinks and cigarettes, his stylistic choices were somewhat predictable because they harmonise seamlessly with the brand’s identity.

Contrasting Styles: Michele and Piccioli at Valentino

Pierpaolo Piccioli brought a minimalist approach to Valentino’s heritage by stripping the historical garments of all ornamentation, creating a new stylistic language based on the silhouette. In contrast, Michele’s work encapsulates an endless series of imagined, lived, or recounted stories, which are fully expressed in the dreamlike world he has crafted.

Recontextualising the Past: Michele’s Stylistic Lexicon

Over the years, we have become familiar with a distinct style of bourgeois garments with orderly silhouettes rooted in memories that reflect Alessandro Michele’s style. While these garments may appear unchanged from their origins, Michele reinterprets them by incorporating small details and variations, allowing them to straddle past and present, influencing both the wearer and the era in which they live.
For Alessandro Michele, this process relies on the power of the archive: a place where passions and obsessions are catalogued and contemplated. Within the archive lies the strength of the past, capable of shaping the present.

Dopo alcune voci circolate sui social negli scorsi giorni è arrivata la conferma ufficiale: Alessandro Michele è il nuovo direttore creativo di Valentino e assumerà l’incarico a partire partire dal 2 aprile. Nella lunga ed emozionante intervista di SAILOR ha raccontato a Maria Luisa Frisa e Chiara Tagliaferri i suoi ricordi d’infanzia, la sua visione poetica e come le immagini, le parole e i materiali abbiano plasmato la sua idea di moda dando vita a una serie di inaudite congiunzioni con cui è riuscito a terremotare molti stereotipi. Se volete scoprire di più sulla sua arte e sulla sua forza creativa potete ascoltare il secondo episodio della serie podcast SAILOR, disponibile gratuitamente su tutte le app d’ascolto e sul nostro sito. L’episodio, così come tutta la serie, è stato realizzato in collaborazione con @Milano Fashion Week. #alessandromichele #tiktokfashion #fashion #valentino #sailor

♬ suono originale –

The Power of Storytelling in Michele’s Fashion

Philosopher Byung Chul Han, in his book Infocracy, argues that storytelling is a narrative disconnected from the past, whereas true narration is intricately connected to everything that came before it. Perhaps this is why the nostalgic archetypes of an unexperienced past, brought to life by Alessandro Michele, resonate so deeply with the modern fashion landscape.

Fields of Study
Fashion Business

You might be interested in…