Suzy Menkes in Milan: Valentino Couture
Which was the more spectacular Roman vision? The timeless cloak in the colour of ancient stone, set against a serene blue sky? Or the dress displayed beside a pair of fencers sparring? Perhaps it was the installation of a long dress in the Villa Medici, under the cupola that inspired it?
After using these gems of Rome as a backdrop to Valentino designs, came the mesmerising beauty and grace of the high-fashion Valentino show. It was held outdoors in the Piazza Mignanelli, near the Spanish Steps – and in front of Valentino’s original fashion palazzo.
The show that creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli sent out was – like its fashion “treasure hunt” of nuggets of Roman history – a love letter to the Eternal City.
“It’s our Rome that we love,” chorused the duo as they greeted friends and clients at a dinner in the candle-lit gardens of the Villa Aurelia. There, Valentino Garavani, the epitome of elegance in a white suit, sat with Gwyneth Paltrow in scarlet. Hers was a daring fashion choice, given that three-quarters of the show was black – although the texture and workmanship shaded dark with light.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Valentino at Valentino Couture 2015_CREDIT Suzy Menkes Instagram
Suzy Menkes with Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, Creative Directors of Valentino
Alber Elbaz with Maria Grazia Chiuri, her husband Paolo, and Suzy Menkes
The designers described the two-day event, which included the opening of a bold new store, as an ode to Rome, “our Rome” as they put it. “Magical, secret and unexpected – a harmony of contrasts that has endured for millennia”, was the story line. But the entire Roman experience was more than that: it was an affirmation of exquisite craftsmanship at the heart of “Alta Roma”, Rome’s haute couture fashion week.
I had so much enjoyed the whimsical dash around the city in a buggy that my mind was full of Maria Grazia and Pierpaolo’s inspirations, drawn from the ancient books lining the 18-century Casanatense Library. I was remembering the sight of 2014 Valentino couture on display among the colourful stage costumes and vivid floor covers in the storage of Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera. But nothing had prepared me for the subtlety of the collection, with its touches of tribal adornment and a faint perfume of Dolce Vita decadence.
The silhouette was long and elegant – a look that the “new” Valentino couple has introduced. But the delicacy of the dresses spoke for the art of couture: spider’s-web lace with just a flash of skin in feet slipped into flat sandals. The designers played with the sensuality of the back as dresses turned to show thin straps undulating over bare flesh.
The shapes did not draw only on nuns’ habits and courtly grandeur. There were also short lace dresses, grounded by Roman sandal straps winding up the leg. They appeared, too, when hyper-sophisticated shades of black morphed into more historic-seeming pieces, dense with rich velvet or satin armour plates. When I studied the programme notes afterwards, I realised that that particular dress had taken 900 hours of work.
By the time that the colour arrived – three-quarters through – it was in rich red or bright gold, giving the suggestion of historic grandeur but the lightness of modernity. The jewellery was one example of this effect: chains and delicate headpieces that were pretty, not pompous.
Why was the show so admired that the audience leapt to its feet and a few wiped away tears? It was because in our cookie-cutter fashion world, where everything comes down to the lowest price, here were designers who elevated their art to where couture should proudly stand.
Maria Grazia and Pierpaolo also focused on their vision of the city – their Rome. The result was personal in its vision and unique in its craft and rare beauty.