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Valentino's Noble Romance

Godfrey Deeny
January 26th, 2012 @ 00:28 AM - Paris

The mood-board in the backstage of the latest Valentino haute couture runway show certainly did telegraph the message - a noble romanticism would dominated proceedings in this spring 2012 collection, a faintly surreal assembly of striking technique and rather proper chic.

The opening dozen looks in the show - staged in the Rothschild family giant mansion in central Paris on Wednesday, Jan. 25 - were composed of "historic" taffetas, in delicate designs inspired by great French painters such as Fragonard and Watteau. Cut with lean sleeves and fabric belts, and pleated below the waist as they flared out to the floor they had a somber elegance that oozed class. Some came with clutches in matching materials, through which the models, poised in neatly coiffed chignons, squeezed in their hands.

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, the house's design duo, then tapped into a major element of Valentino's DNA, pure white. They ran through a dozen looks in white or ecru crepe that arguably displayed couture technique better than any show this season. Their shoulders completed with passementerie, their waists with ivory spiral, their neck and hands covered with lace, the models had a delightful delicacy. Plus, the lace-covered pumps were the chicest footwear seen in the three-day Paris season.

The duo built smartly to a rarefied finale where, again, the "petits mains" or little hands of the Roman fashion house's atelier performed superbly - the combinations of organza prairie flowers, crystals and patchwork Chantilly, embroidered on taffeta mesh was pretty breath-taking. Even a complete boor could not help being impressed by the house's dedication to drama and beauty.

Little wonder that Valentino CEO Stefano Sassi could brag that sales of Valentino haute couture have risen by 80 percent in the past 12 months, as customers discover the ethereal beauty of this house's fashion.

"It's our Valentino dream," commented Piccioli post-show before a tour of the mood-board - few fashion designers are so open about their visual inspiration as the Valentino double - revealed a patchwork of noble Renaissance imagery, elegiac garden parties, courtesan panache and quirky nudity. Which brings us to the one element that this collection lacked - the high-end sexiness that has always been key to Valentino. It was not so much that there was not one drop of Sir Val's signature sinful red, it was more that the sense of haute gamme excess and boudoir fantasy that also defined Valentino was absent - and maybe in need of a return.

In a curious act of symmetry, the show brought to an end 15 days of menswear and couture on the Continent, which began with Valentino's stylishly gutsy men's show in a gilded palazzo in Florence. And in a very real sense that says more about just how successful Piccioli and Chiuri have become at Valentino - they just defined, bookcased and celebrated with innovation a huge fashion moment in Europe.

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