The first look was so telling. A fan-pleated navy blue sheer gown with a flute skirt and a blousy top, with see-through billowy sleeves, carried the spirit, the overriding silhouette, the wayward intention, and the sex of the collection to come – a perfect microcosm of the new ventures taken at the Valentino atelier. Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri have been equally lauded and admonished for their collective vision, but even their fans would agree – their royal naïf calling-card had started getting stale. One more doomed Tsarina throughline and things might’ve gotten ugly on the spectator side of things. But there was no time for hypothetical grumbling; that first look was such a shock. It’s Valentino after all – the house is virtually synonymous with red. A white crepe opener, a black leather opener, maybe even a nude opener, sure, but a navy blue sheer gown with strategic cut outs? Has the Tsarina been usurped for good?
Perhaps, but what has stayed, quite palpably so, is the oftentimes heartbreaking solemnity to Chiuri and Piccioli’s beautiful constructs. After the jolt of Frida Gustavsson, dewy-faced and statuesque in blue sheer had passed, the duo tapped a minimal vein with monochromatic navy blue above the knee-length shifts with matching capes, followed by, quite unexpectedly, jumpsuits. (As a side note, how is it that Maud Welzen’s shocking beauty always reaches the apotheosis of its own splendor specifically at Valentino Haute Couture?) One such number, worn by Welzen, was strictly quiet, and yet, who in real life could look away from the woman wearing that midnight blue garment? Minimalism and futile resistance have not always made the best bed-fellows, but perhaps that’s part of the plan for Valentino’s new trajectory. The undiscovered frontiers of mode in this day and age are worth their weight in gold, are they not?
If the formative run of dark blues played like a starless sky at deep dawn, they then gave way to a spangled firmament of jet-beaded blousons and trousers. Girls walked scintillant in tops adorned with gems and crystals that shone like real stars when the light hit them just right, and when not, appeared to be a chic leopard print bisected by bands of black velvet. Brocade was another big part of the story. There was brocade for days, which was made perfectly clear on a blue, green and gold brocade jumpsuit. One of the duo’s greatest leaps forward was a bright lemon-yellow three piece suit. That ensemble had real-world strength – not a stitch of fantastical prettiness, though there were gowns galore that spoke about the deep recesses of melancholy, beauty and art. One black jacket, articulated in blistering gold embellishment down the spine was netted directly from William Morris’ ‘Tree of Life’, while, though accidentally, the lineup’s most robust breathtaker, a dazzling foliage print sheer gown, recalled one of Western thought’s most iconic tragic female figures – Ophelia – by way of Sir John Everett Millais’ iconic oil painting, which currently hangs at the Tate.
It was almost perfect. There was but one single note that did not agree with the course of the show. A lilac gown covered in dozens of rows of silk organza ruffles was inappropriately saccharine amongst pieces generated by seriously flexed creative muscle. And just one more final tangential mention – Kinga Rajzak is one lucky lady. One year ago, she donned on the couture season’s singular greatest gown – an eau de nil panne velvet gown with a braided collar and waist. This season she was given a black tulle pleated gown with a trio of black velvet bands stretching across the bodice. Its possible Kinga may have clinched dress of the week – yet again.