From the first moment of the Valentino show – sending out colours from sky blue through sunset mauve to grass green for a coat swinging over Bordeaux trousers – you knew that it could only end in tears. Tears of joy and love at the mad, poetic dream of haute couture.
First to his feet as the operatic arias on the soundtrack reached their crescendo was Valentino Garavani, who is in the rare position of seeing the house he nurtured burst into a second bloom. Not only his own fashion family, but also clients dressed up for 4th of July parties, rose to their feet to salute the designer, who, in turn, hugged his wife and children and then Valentino and his colleagues.
Guests were left dizzy by the flow of ever-changing textures, from slithering satin to appliquéd patterns, or the artistic mixes of colour for the most casual of outfits – say a yellow, frilled taffeta shirt with a pair of olive-green shorts.
Two things marked this show as exceptional: the way that references to history or more random artistic elements were folded seamlessly into the clothes; and the techniques of the Roman ateliers that enabled the designer to embrace a shape from the past but transform it to the lightness and ease of the present. What would have been a weighty robe in its previous incarnation became as light as the proverbial feather. As the designer put it, “We took away the weight.”
“This season, I didn’t want to think of a story before starting. I wanted to have an approach more in sync with the fabric and colours, and I wanted to go in very deeply – from the heart,” Pierpaolo said, stroking a dress whose abstract historical patterns melded with green and pink satin.
“I saw that I was putting different shapes – silhouettes from Greek mythology, angels and innocents – all together,” said the designer. “It didn’t make sense, but I decided to go with this sort of consciousness. No thinking, just fluid movement and putting together the references to create imagination.”
Pierpaolo went on to describe his relationship with his petites mains – the seamstresses who were devoted to an outfit for up to two months, thus leaving them with personal memories of their lives during its creation. But while he saw their work as a baptism – the dress is born and welcomed into the Valentino family – to himself, couture is a vision of “beauty, purity and intimacy”.
I wonder if anyone but an Italian would dare to reference so many different cultures – and colours. Those two elements came through in the clothes as, in one ensemble, the easy tailoring of a ginger coat slipped over gilded trousers; or an outfit with similar simplicity in cut and shape, but with a dense pattern.
For another outfit, the designer showed me tiny samples of 18 fabrics, all different in colour, whose textures were appliquéd on the actual dress to create a pattern of a Caravaggio painting. “I started with Greek mythology, and Narcissus by Caravaggio. I wanted to reclaim it in a more distinctive way, so the design is a more elementary sketch. At the very end when you see it, you miss the sketch, it’s all about colours and fabric.”
But why, in this age of sneakers and logo sweatshirts, would a scarlet satin dress, dense with frills, have any appeal? The answer is that these Valentino creations do not require a reality check. They are simple clothes, made magical by colour, texture, and cut – and always with a sense of ease, freedom, and lightness in relation to the body.
Watching the models walk by, covered in these undulating, airy outfits, the clothes, for all their intense workmanship, seemed spontaneous and effortless.
“An Apollonian spontaneity pervades everything,” was Pierpaolo’s way of expressing the culture of his country and the ease of the clothes. “I have a sense of memory because of course the memories are there,” he said. “Sometimes there are very old techniques, but we see a different way. I can’t say what it is, but it’s about volume, lightness, Madonna meets Versailles. I don’t know what it is any more.”
Maybe one word says it all: beauty. A chance to dream – in our often rough and ugly times.