I know what women want. They want to be beautiful.
– Valentino Garavani –
This week I attended the grand unveiling of Valentino: Master of Couture at Somerset House. It encapsulates the true essence of elegance, glamour, haute couture; indeed everything that is Valentino Garavani. Spanning a 50-year career, this exhibition lovingly showcases over 130 hand-crafted designs worn by Valentino’s clients, friends and icons such as Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren. Much of the couture has never been seen outside the Valentino atelier, offering an incredibly rare opportunity for the public to see and appreciate these exquisite creations.
When Valentino met the press, he extolled the capital: “I love England, I love to be in London and I hope to be able to come very often to do other exhibitions, other Valentino things in this beautiful city.”
The exhibition is divided into three parts: Valentino, The Catwalk and The Atelier. The first room – dominated by a huge white flower installation unfurling with interactive projections – overlooks cases of previously unseen personal photographs, couture invitations and press clippings from the designer’s private collection.
In a clever reversal of roles, the second room allows visitors to take centre stage and walk the catwalk (a sixty-metre runway), whilst mannequins sporting blonde wigs perch on rows of white chairs, thereby becoming the ‘audience’. The mannequins are grouped together in themes, rather than chronologically: black and white, volume, animal print and Valentino red etc. There’s a striking mix of evening gowns, dresses, trouser suits, minis, capes and kaftans. The numbered circles on the wrist of the mannequins reflects the convention for identifying designs in a couture presentation, first established in the early twentieth century in Paris and London.
Here’s a beautiful example from the white section: Ecru georgette evening dress with lace appliqué detailing, worn by Jackie Kennedy for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis.
From the black section, probably one of the most resplendent dresses ever to have graced an Oscar ceremony: Black velvet and tulle evening gown with white ribbon detailing worn by Julia Roberts at the 2001 Academy Awards.
Descending the stairs to the next section, visitors can see the heavenly wedding dress of Princess Marie-Chantal, made with ten different kinds of lace and a dress which took a total of 25 seamstresses to make. Here, there’s also the opportunity to find out more about the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum. Then onto the final area where visitors can take a behind the scenes look at the atelier through a series of specially made films. It’s a fascinating opportunity to learn about budellini: the couture technique specific to Valentino where double charmeuse silk is rolled and sewn around a looped length of wool, or Rose De Volant: a couture technique where lengths of organza silk are cut on the bias and shaped to form open roses.
Quite simply, the title of this exhibition says it all.
Valentino: Master of Couture runs from 29 November 2012 – 2 March 2012
For further information please visit: www.somersethouse.org.uk
All images by Peter Macdiarmid.