What better time to see a Valentino exhibition than on the eve of London Fashion Week, when there’s a buzz in the air as tents are set up in Somerset House’s central courtyard?
Inside the exhibition itself, a wonderful set of couture sketches from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s are displayed. A flourish of the maestro’s pencil produces flounces and frills, bell sleeves and tunics, coats and capes on paper. It’s easy to imagine him at this luxurious desk, in an airy room with floor to ceiling windows, curtains swaying in the summer breeze.
Valentino creates glittering wardrobe for what may seem to many like fictitious women, dripping in fine furs and jewellery, lounging on yachts, sipping champagne. Like the woman in the 1960s who looked divine in pleated salmon pink silk, hosting cocktail parties in her green printed panther evening dress; or who attended lunch dates in the 1970s wearing woollen trousers, cocooned in her black and white tartan cashmere coat with oversized sheepskin collar. Or wowing luminaries in the 1990s in red chiffon and tulle evening gown with point d’esprit panel detailing. His creations exemplify the spirit of la dolce vita, the opulence that only the Italians can do without seeming too ostentatious.
Over 130 dresses are displayed on mannequins seated or amongst chairs reserved for stars on either side of a unique catwalk-style walkway. The dresses are not behind glass and each one can be studied up close and personal. They are breathtaking and inspiring, timeless handcrafted creations, the definition of couture.
The exhibition also includes filmed interviews with the designer himself and his right hand man, Giancarlo Giammetti. Silk roses and tulle petals, embroidery, pleating, stitching and other detailed couture techniques are displayed with video clips of the hands that create them, hands with phenomenal skill.
At the end is the shop, but I have to go back through the exhibition so I can actually see these techniques used in the gowns themselves; the display is the wrong way round for me. I would also have loved to have seen, as featured on the promotional image, a selection of the famous Valentino red dresses.
But these points aside, it’s a must-see for any fashion dreamer. Especially when it’s a rare day off from the kids.
Words: Nikki Verdon
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid