What plenty saw as a minus – her age – Maria Grazia views as a major source of strength. ‘Fifty-two is very different from 32. You’re not so obsessed with what people think about your work. You know you’re going to upset some people and that’s fine. I’m ready every day to retire. No problem,’ she says.
I’m pretty sure she means it. I’m equally sure there was no way she wasn’t going to make it work – and that dying her naturally raven-dark hair creamy calico yellow at the age of 50 was partly to make herself look less ‘cosy’. With the indigo shadow that orbits her dark eyes and her knuckles full of rings, that’s a distinctive look she’s got going. ‘Actually, I’ve toned my clothes down in Paris. In Rome, I can be more dramatic and whimsical. Here… well, for one thing, I’m always dressing for warmth.’
When I first met Maria Grazia around a decade ago, she was still at Valentino and barely spoke – not to journalists, at any rate. ‘Well, I literally couldn’t speak English,’ she laughs. Even now, I can hear Rachele’s disembodied voice chipping in when her mother’s English occasionally falters. Eventually, Rachele joins us on screen – dressed almost identically to her mother, but in black.
They’re extremely close. When the now 24-year-old was living in London for six years, Maria Grazia often visited her flat, sleeping on the sofa bed. Rachele, who took a gender studies course, now works at Dior, helping to ensure the house doesn’t stumble into rows about gender and racial identity. ‘I honestly don’t think fashion says the wrong things intending to hurt,’ says Maria Grazia. ‘It’s ignorance. I grew up in the Catholic church, so I had a lot to learn.’ At Valentino after one collection with an Out of Africa theme, she and Piccioli were at the centre of a row about cultural appropriation.