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Paris Couture: Valentino in Aspic

Godfrey Deeny
January 28th, 2009 @ 1:23 PM - Paris

Talk about the restoration of the ancient regime.

The powers that be and any influence peddler of note in fashion turned out in force Wednesday evening, Jan. 28, for the debut haute couture collection by the new joint creative directors of the house of Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.

It turned out to be a long homage to the oeuvre of the recently retired Signor Valentino, who sat front row and eventually stood and applauded his two long-time design assistants, as did all the main staffers of the house at the show.

One could not fault the collection for taste, or its excellent cutting, or the clean silhouette or the continued dexterity and striking quality of the Roman atelier. Yet, the applause from the other sections of the audience was definitely muted. Simply put - people come to Paris haute couture not just to see beauty but also to experience the joy of discovering the latest ideas from fashion’s best laboratories; the thrill of the new. This spring 2009 collection was, however, an almost verbatim restatement of the founder’s style. So much so, that the collection looked at times like it had been lifted from Valentino’s wonderful retrospective last year in the Louvre.

There were some super elegant looks – an organdie dress with ivory guipure flowers, a dramatic vermillion draped cocktail in Valentino’s signature sinful red and a truly stunning organza petal bolero over a long mousseline sheath worn by Russian catwalker Sasha Piovarova. But, overall, the Valentino DNA was, well, too dominating; so the show ended up feeling like an extended thrift shop discovery of the designer’s favorites.

Chiuri and Piccioli also picked a curious location for the return of the establishment – the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, the very place where the student revolt of 1968 ignited, eventually toppling the de Gaulle administration. In October, the duo succeeded Valentino’s immediate successor Alessandra Facchinetti, who despite generally positive reviews was seen by management as too experimental.

And in a bizarre act of understatement in an ego-driven world like fashion, the new duo didn’t even put their names on the program left on every seat.

Valentino, in one break with the past, did stream the show live via satellite to Paris, Milan and Rome boutiques of, well, Valentino. A case, you could say, of preaching to the converted, not winning any new souls.

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