#SuzyCouture: Valentino – A Poetic and Moving Moment
The Valentino show opened with a dash of grand opera: a blue feather hat above a rippling, frilled cape, but worn over a tank top and soft brown trousers. This outfit, like all 68 designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli, had a name: “Oriana”.
That suggested an Italian sunrise or a glint of gold – or even an operatic diva. But that was not what the designer had in mind.
“All the clothes were named after people in the atelier,” Pierpaolo explained, “rather than giving the names of goddesses, artists or heroines. It’s all about the huge art of couture. This is the most intimate collection I have done. It’s also about identity. Although I worked for Valentino, I didn’t grow up with a mother wearing couture. I was a normal family guy. And I try not to forget who I was.”
The designer showed me one board with names and another where each person working in the atelier had written a little letter. It was a poetic and moving moment, for Pierpaolo had captured, in the humble letters as well as in the exquisitely made yet often simple-looking clothes, the couture of our times.
Played out to the arias of Tosca and other classical music in a building that is a former Rothschild mansion, the designer created an ambiance and a collection that brought the audience to its feet – including Valentino himself, who had been sitting on a velvet couch with Giancarlo Giammetti and Donatella Versace.
The story of the clothes was a perverse mixture of the historic and contemporary, where Philip Treacy’s plumed hats might be a purple nest topping a loose, casual coat, or an oversize T-shirt and narrow trousers. Look closer, and these were exceptional fabrics in painterly colours.
The most striking thing about the early part of the show was the casual attitude and the sense that a flowered coat, top and trousers, all in shifting shades, was just a simple summer outfit – until you absorbed that these were all different blooms of daisies, anemones and tulips. Another floral patterned dress had each flower scissored and stitched on. Other gestures that made the show seem modern were the casual interruptions to perfection, such as a sloppy, flower-patterned sweater, discreetly trimmed with lace.
“Couture is about is the magic – what you don’t see,” said Pierpaolo. “It’s good to speak about ninety hours of workmanship – but it’s good not to feel it, and instead to feel the dream and the magic of couture.”
“When I walk into the atelier, there is always a moment before everything is done – when the bow is untied and when the crinoline is not worn. I wanted to freeze that, so you feel the human behind the clothes. That is something very important to me.”
But essential too is couture reality: that people – and especially a younger generation – feel desire for the clothes. Pierpaolo managed that with a chiffon blouse tucked into a gathered skirt and with a slightly more formal long mesh dress and matching cardigan. You could tell that the bodies moved easily in all the clothes, however grand a cape dress smothered in flower patterns might appear.
These formal evening clothes might seem predictably grand, yet there were quiet revolutions, as in a gauzy gown twinkling with iridescent sequinned flowers. It turned out to be cut into wide-legged trousers.
This was a couture born of dreams but with the reality of a modern woman taking fashion in her stride – even though she might choose to wear a pair of feathery sandals. It was a rare and precious achievement for the Valentino “family” and for its exceptional designer.