Valentino Spring 2013 Ready-to-Wear Collection

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli’s ideal Valentino woman embodies a perfect mix of modern and mythic femininity. Their clothes have always been blessed by a finely tuned temporal amalgamation of good taste – a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new. And it’s perfectly fitting that a brand driven by a duo should be grounded in the harmony in discordant variants, namely – the proper and the carnal. Inspired by post-war Rome and the rise of Italian celluloid, they touched upon all possible castes of that era – the aristocracy, the pious, the help – and brought them all to the same level with cut, fabric and obsessively considered embellishments.

Each season, Chiuri and Piccioli create some of the biggest show-stopping ‘dream’ dresses on the Paris Fashion Week docket, and while this collection has a few of its own, the anchors here, ironically enough, were the light camisole sheath dresses that were evenly sprinkled throughout the gargantuan 60+ look collection. The opener was a silent killer: a black simple sheath with slim perforated parallel lines going down the bodice. It was deceptively suggestive – covered up and yet, not quite. That same flirtatious element carried over to a simple nude leather sheath and was luxed out even further in what looked like a gazar ititeration with a white leaflet border tracing the decolletage and running across just above the hem.

If the strategic perforations – the fagoting – of those sheaths read as harmless kink, then the visible slip beneath what looks like a tuxedo shirt and black cigarette pants (the whole piece is actually a jumpsuit) was a solid come-on. That look in particular felt more Parisian than Roman, but painting has always been the Italian’s forte, and their painterly touch here, spoke volumes in its simultaneously audacious restraint. Namely speaking here of a stunning white floor-length lace slip with isolated flowers hand-painted in black. While their last haute couture collection was painted by what could’ve been the brush of Sir John Everett Millais, those vernal colors, the moist folliage of those precious prints – here they looked like negative exposures, or light Rorschach blots.

Yes, Chiuri and Piccioli turn out perfect aristocratic gowns season in and season out, but those pieces tend to overshadow equally marvelous work. Their jumpsuits, for instance, are consistently chic and downright covet-worthy. The best of them here was a slinky number in impenetrable black with an oversized peasant bib on the front, the bib encrusted with granular see-through beads.

They flexed muscle in less obvious ways with the demure coat dresses imbued in a midnight blue and a tailored red leather trench. That look was elegant, but mild-mannered. When it came down the runway completely cut in snakeskin – it made the dead horse of a trend that just recently seemed to disappear, look fresher than ever, and then got its most experimental treatment in a see-through plastic version with clear studded leather trim. Those kinds of chances are what get collections like their Fall 2010 haute couture outing remembered (go look for the bird cage dress on Gwen Loos from that season). When Valentino loosens up a bit, it can work like a balm amongst all the primness. But, then again, that same control is always certainly just as magical.