September 22, 2021 10:30:24 pm
Written by Vanessa Friedman
In August, a month or two after receiving his second COVID-19 vaccine shot, Pierpaolo Piccioli, the creative director of Valentino, posted a selfie on Instagram. In it, he was smiling on a beach in his hometown — Nettuno, Italy — wearing a black hoodie with the red Valentino “V” logo on the chest. Beneath it, instead of the brand name as usual, was the word “Vaccinated.”
It was funny and civic-minded, a mordantly contemporary comment on the place where consumer culture, history and politics meet. Almost immediately the likes and requests started rolling in: from Marc Jacobs and the stylist Zerina Akers; Pieter Mulier, the Alaïa designer; and Emanuele Farneti, the former editor of Italian Vogue.
Later on, Lady Gaga posted a video of herself wearing the same sweatshirt.
“Need this sweatshirt,” Eva Chen, Instagram’s director of fashion partnerships, wrote in the comments of Piccioli’s post.
“I MUST HAVE,” Zoey Deutch, the actor, wrote in all caps.
Now she can. The sweatshirt, or a slightly elevated version of it, will be available on Valentino’s website, with 100% of the proceeds going to UNICEF to support its work with the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, which is focused on getting vaccines to countries where they are not yet widely accessible.
The journey from selfie to store, though, was not as simple as it might initially appear — and has wider implications than anyone might have suspected. Not just because of the tensions around vaccinations, or the optics of a luxury sweatshirt seeming to transform a vaccine into a status symbol. (The Valentino hoodie retails for 590 euros, or about $690.)
Rather, it is because Valentino, and Piccioli, hadn’t actually made the sweatshirt in the first place.
It had been designed by a company in Los Angeles called Cloney that specializes in bootlegging the city’s cultural references (celebrity, social, fashion) and putting them on small-batch tees, sweats and baseball caps as a sort of Merry Prankster meta comment on the moment. (Clone-y. Get it?) Piccioli and his team had discovered the products online, as had most of Cloney’s fans.
Then Piccioli had a choice to make. He could have done what most luxury brands have traditionally done when faced with unauthorized logo use: Thrown their weight around and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Cloney. (For a recent example, see Nike, which sued the art collective MSCHF over its “Satan shoes,” made with Air Max 97s.)
Alternatively, he could have simply lifted the idea and hoped Diet Prada didn’t notice. Instead, Piccioli bought out Cloney’s remaining stock (there were only five hoodies left), not to hide it from the world but to give it to family, friends and Gaga — and post it on Instagram.
“I can talk about ruffles and bows, but sometimes you have to use your voice to say what you really believe, and I believe it is our social responsibility to get vaccinated,” Piccioli said. “It’s not a symbol of freedom to not be vaccinated. It’s a symbol of lack of respect for others.” The sweatshirt, he thought, was a “genius” way of expressing that. And he wasn’t, he realized when he saw the response to his selfie, the only one.
But, he said, “I didn’t want to steal the idea — even though I wished I had it first.” So he got in touch with Duke Christian George III, the founder of Cloney.
George started Cloney in 2019 after a career as a dancer and actor. Before it became the name of his clothing label, Cloney was the name of a rap group he created composed of “two guys who dressed in tuxedos and George Clooney masks.” His goal with the original sweatshirt was, George said, like his goal with all of his products, including a “Kim Is My Lawyer” hoodie made in honor of Kim Kardashian’s efforts to pass the bar, “to make some respectful noise about what’s going on in the world.”
He was, he said, both “floored and so excited” when Valentino got in touch. “It’s the best case scenario for anything I do,” he said. “The ultimate victory.”
(George has never been sued by any of the companies whose brands he has “borrowed,” including the Beverly Hills Hotel and the restaurant Dan Tana’s.)
Cloney and Piccioli agreed that Valentino would make the hoodies in its factories, to its standards. The finished product would have both logos on the body and be a Valentino x Cloney production. George would effectively be donating the idea, and Valentino would donate the money — an estimated 800,000 euros (or about $938,000) to start, which is based on how many sweats they anticipate selling.
The result will be either a badge of honor or a lightning rod. Probably both. Not all the comments under Piccioli’s original selfie, after all, were favorable. “This is very unattractive because it is creating the gap in between people. Each person have the right to decide about own health,” one poster wrote. Either way, the garment will take the vaccine selfie to a new level.
Piccioli, who said that all members of his design team had been vaccinated, though Valentino does not require it of the company’s employees, said he hoped the sweatshirt would encourage other fashion brands to take a public stance on the vaccination issue. And, perhaps, to do better when it comes to recognizing the work of others.
To that end, he was contemplating whether or not to put the V-for-Vaccination hoodies in his Paris Fashion Week show. Does this kind of fashion statement belong on the runway, he mused?
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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