Last Thursday, July 9, the Valentino couture show walked in Paris. The following day Valentino: The Last Emperor the documentary that captures the last two years of Valentino’s career, opened in wide release and the reviews for the couture show were all over the Internet. The timing, to my mind anyway, was perfect.
I’d seen the documentary a few days earlier and reviewed it for the publication I work for. The film opens with brief clips of Valentino Garavani, the designer and founder of the House of Valentino, talking to the press at various events. In every clip he’s being asked questions like “What do women want?” and “Why do you design?” and to all of these he answers with one word: beauty. “Women want to look beautiful.” “I love beautiful things. A beautiful lady, a beautiful dog, a beautiful piece of furniture. I love beauty.”
Valentino’s kind of beauty, however, is a particularly romantic one, one that could as easily be labelled old glamour as old fashioned, though it went beyond both of these descriptions. His goal was to make women look and feel beautiful and that’s precisely what he did throughout this 45 years in fashion.
For this latest collection the new designers of the house Ms. Chiuri and Mr. Piccioli, who previously designed Valentino accessories, took the brand in a decidedly younger, edgier direction. And it’s one that doesn’t seem to sit right with the history of the house.
Fashion houses nowadays are a brand and as such they can just as easily be re-branded. This has worked for older houses like Balmain and Balenciga, both of which were resurrected by creating a distinctly youthful, rockier outlook . But there’s a danger in doing this, if you go too far in one direction you lose the original essence of house. And this is what Valentino is in danger of going.
In her review of the couture show the New York Times’ Cathy Horyn lamented the loss of the delicate dresses Alessandra Facchinetti, who over took the house when Valentino retired, created for her last collection. In Ms. Horyn’s view of Facchinetti’s creations were much more akin to the essence of the house, than those created by Chirui and Piccioli and I have to agree.
Though never huge fan of the house, the documentary reminded me of the aesthetic purpose of the house and the extremely beautiful garments that defined the style. It would be a shame to loose the essence of the House of Valentino so quickly after the designer exited the business. His vision is a fundamental part of what haute couture means and its a tradition that deserves to continue—the film is a testament to that.
From right to left: A look from Valentino’s last haute couture collection ’08-09. Alessandra Facchinetti for Valentino couture. Ms. Chirui and Mr. Piccioli take the house in an edgier direction a/w ’09-10.