Valentino’s spring/summer 2016 collection was inspired by the styles of Africa, and so, brand designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli decided to transport the Valentino spring 2016 campaign directly to Kenya. The photoshoot took place in the Amboseli National Park in the African nation, and was shot by editorial photographer Stephen McCurry. McCurry’s most famous work was his “Afghan Girl” photograph, which was featured on the cover of National Geographic, as well as other like subjects.
Chiuri and Piccioli cast models Kirin Dejonckheere, Alice Metza, Cameron Traiber, Greta Varlese, and Tami Williams to showcase the apparel, but the Maasai people of Kenya were also featured in the shoot, ramping up the natural African inspiration, and serving as a powerful addition. Alongside these indigenous women appearing amid the nation’s scenery, the Italian brand’s apparel seemed right at home. So not only was the campaign transported to this nation, the viewers were as well when the campaign was released Friday.
“The idea of these pictures is to take the viewer on a journey,” McCurry told WWD. “The clothes were inspired by African motifs, [so] to take the shoot to Africa and show how these things interact and, this connection of the clothes, the models, the environment, the local people; I thought it was a great endeavor.”
And you could definitely call this campaign a journey, so the photographer was right on the money in his statement. The setting and overall atmosphere were the best for the spring apparel, and showed the connection between the inspiration and the finished product. Naturally, these garments might seem out of place there in a day-to-day setting, but the fact that it doesn’t seem too farfetched is a great success for any designer with such a clear source of inspiration.
The Valentino spring/summer 2016 ad campaign is beautiful – that much can be seen by anyone with a similar mind. That being said, it is difficult to ignore the scrutiny under which Valentino’s casting choices has been under for the past few seasons in particular. For its spring 2016 runway show, there was an abundance of white models styled with cornrows, which is a trend social media users have continuously spoken out against.
It is interesting that the designers at Valentino, knowing the public outrage, decided to choose the “Africa” theme, because it could have been used to integrate more diversity into their casting. But the brand stuck to its guns and kept up with the cornrows, so social media will likely be buzzing for some time over this matter. The casting of Caribbean model Williams is a step from past campaigns, but the public is calling for more than that.
Executives at Valentino have made efforts to explain the collection and styling as being for cross-cultural exchange. Guido Palau styled hair for this particular campaign, and wrote in his show notes, “The clothes have some tribal inspiration, so the hair has that feeling as well… It’s a bit influenced by the ‘60s and ‘70s when girls used to travel and they would bring back inspiration from other places and cultures, which is kind of an eclectic way of styling yourself.”
Even so, the public’s outrage at the models’ cornrows stems from the social acceptance of that particular hairstyle. It’s common knowledge that this hairdo originated from black women, but in today’s culture, those women can’t always wear their hair in that way, unless they want to evoke some sort of public criticism. Of course, that’s not Valentino’s fault, but it is still a publicly known fact.
This Italian brand isn’t the only one to cast largely white women, but it certainly seems to be under public fire more often. Casting a racially diverse range of models isn’t something all designers think about, but it is becoming a larger issue as society continues on. So maybe Valentino will catch onto this a bit more for the next campaign, but for now, all we can do is see these photos and appreciate the positive attributes.
There is a lot of power in these images, and even though there isn’t as much diversity in the casting as some may like, the clothes do look exceptional against the backdrop, and the addition of indigenous people and scenery adds to the flavor of the African inspiration. The campaign is a sight to be seen, regardless of the growing fire it is under.
Photos courtesy of Valentino