“We want to do something which is about fragility and beauty,” said Maria Grazia Chiuri, “something light—a reaction to the time we’re in.” She and Pier Paolo Piccioliwere working in the Valentino showroom on final fittings for their couture show on Wednesday. A girl stood before them in a long, full-skirted dress with delicate wrist-length sleeves and a high neck in yards of blurred, faded blue-and-yellow rose print. “I feel like a princess,” she breathed, catching sight of herself in a mirror.
All the signs are that something extraordinary—even emotional—will take place between models and the audience when this collection hits the runway. It’s based on the designers’ research into eighteenth-century portraiture, the court of Marie Antoinette, the romance of Barry Lyndon and the outcome is exquisite in every detail of the multiple refinements of lace, tulle, and minute embroideries summoned by the Valentino couture ateliers in Rome. We are set to see lace slippers, cream embroidered tuxedos, high-necked ruffle-collared blouses, and any number of enchanting dresses in the kind of handwork rarely witnessed in the twenty-first century. Still, there is nothing Old World about the feeling of the clothes. Ornate as they sound, there’s an overriding freshness and vitality in them which feels genuine to a young girl like that model. On rare occasions, fashion shows can be intensely moving, and this may well be one of them. Note to audience: Pack tissues, just in case.
With 24 hours to go before his spring haute couture show that he will present in the ravishing Louis Seize salons of the Hôtel de Crillon, Giambattista Valli (working in the ravishing eighteenth-century rooms of his own fashion headquarters a stone’s throw from the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré) is sporting his war wounds—fingers wrapped in plasters from the stabbing pins with which he has been tweaking the 40-something ensembles that he is fitting in his characteristically hands-on way.
The starting point for the collection is Valli’s desire to “support the work of all the couture ateliers—the embroidery one, the flower one, the fabric one, the lace—and going to the memories of what couture is for me, but in a light, modern way.”
Valli always begins work on a classic Stockman mannequin—and that means that this season everything originates with a waist, with emphatic peplums blooming out below the hourglass torso (shaped with Valli corsets), and elaborate draped scarf collars blossoming above.
Valli’s subtle couture touches include lace flowers that are cut out and re-appliquéd to look like flights of butterflies trembling on a sprig of spring blossom, puffy organza blooms garlanding necklines, and sprays of hydrangeas that will frame his model’s faces. Solid sequin gowns in black or plum are embroidered to graduate from tiny paillettes at the neckline to disc sequins at the hem, turning them into exquisite waterfalls of reflected light as the wearer moves.
Valli’s longtime collaborator Luigi Scialanga, meanwhile, has sourced a storied bronze foundry in Rome to create the handmade silvered bronze-flower necklaces and belts that will cinch the designer’s exquisite, drifting chiffon frocks. “I love the idea of wearability,” says Valli, and his second foray into haute couture bids fair to increase his already enviable roster of clients that include, beyond his own celebrated pantheon of best-dressed European beauties, young and well-heeled gals in China, Russia, the Middle East, and North and South America.
Donatella is back, you might have noticed. Riding high on the off-the-scale reaction to her H&M collaboration in November, she’s now chosen the moment to return Atelier Versace to public visibility during Paris couture week. “I felt so liberated by it,” she said of the H&M collaboration, which sold out globally within two days. “It’s given me confidence.” She could’ve added Angelina Jolie making it on almost all of the Golden Globes best-dressed lists last week in an ivory and red satin Atelier Versace dress to her list of positive auguries, too. For the fact is that Versace’s couture operation has been carrying on uninterrupted all along; it’s just that Donatella has kept it off the runway (not even allowing press to report on private views) since 2004. Now she’s stepping back, consolidating the high-low arc of the Versace empire with a series of presentations at the École des Beaux-Arts on Monday morning.
Last week in Versace’s studios in Milan, the seamstresses were hard at it, pinning and embroidering fourteen looks on dress-dummies made up to the size of the models who will wear them. Exactly what looks will transpire from the combinations of lace and slivers of aluminum remains to be seen, but let it be known: the foundations, boned corselettes, and lace body-suits that were in the midst of being prepared for the show are inimitably done. By the time they’re swishing lithely around tomorrow, they’ll be undectectable to the naked eye, but these elements are the eternal house secrets which make Atelier Versace work so well on the red carpet.
André Leon Talley's Golden Globes Red Carpet Report
Madonna and Andrea Riseborough Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Was there a memo sent out in Hollywood about the masses of Baywatch babe hairdos (Reese, Salma, Elle, Madonna, Heidi, Kristen) at the Golden Globes? And did an alternative memo go out for the ballerina knot at the nape (Angelina, Natalie, Claire, Emma)? And where were the unexpected surprises on the red carpet? Instead, a sweep of strapless dresses with dramatic caboose trains ruled the evening. I kept wanting to see those moments of shock and awe, but there were none. I kept wanting to see someone in a short dress, but there were none. I will say thank you, Meryl Streep (Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama for The Iron Lady), for the dignity of your words in relation to all the women working in your industry and your ability to look soigné in what looked like a Temple Grandin shirt while seated, until you were onstage and revealed the dramatic cut of your skirt and lace-insert shirtwaist. Your choice of Alessandra Rich was original, to say the least. Score for Lanvin with Natalie Portman looking great in ruby duchesse satin with dramatic side draping, and Emma Stone just as wonderful in a two-toned Grecian dress with eagle-buckled belt.