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Is Humanity Out of Fashion?

Ever since news broke last week that Pierpaolo Piccioli, the designer of Valentino, was leaving the brand, paeans to his talent have been flowing on both social and fashion media. But of all the words used to describe Mr. Piccioli’s work — its “genius” and “magic” and “vision,” its “dreaminess” and “beauty” — the one that most stands out to me is “humanity.”

Not because of the looming threat of A.I., and whatever that means when it comes to clothes, but because Mr. Piccioli is not the only designer leaving fashion in the last six months whose “humanity” was part of their calling card. In fact, he’s the third.

The first was Sarah Burton, the designer of Alexander McQueen. Ms. Burton departed that brand in October, 13 years after taking the reins as creative director following the death of its founder and more than 20 after joining as an assistant to Mr. McQueen.

The second was Dries Van Noten, who announced his retirement after 40 years in the business only a few days before the Valentino news. And now Mr. Piccioli, who was at Valentino for 25 years, eight as sole creative director.

At ease: Models reclining on a custom-made grass carpet after the Dries Van Noten spring 2015 show. Credit…Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

It is possible, of course, to see this as a coincidence. Fashion is in a period of uncertainty because of broader political and economic forces, after a time of relative stability (at least in terms of personnel), and insecurity can breed a desire for change. It is also possible that this shift is simply a generational passing of the torch. Mr. Van Noten is 65; Mr. Piccioli, 56; Ms. Burton, was 49 when she left McQueen. It’s rare for designers to last more than 10 years at one brand, unless they own it, as Mr. Van Noten did until 2018, when he sold a majority stake to the Spanish group Puig.

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