…..exhibition at Somerset House
What can I say? It’s couture. It’s glorious. It’s (mostly) not me.
I’ve never been a Valentino sort of girl: his clothes are just not austere enough for me – a bit too heavy handed in the ornate beading department. They’ve always reminded me of the opening credits to Dallas – couture blouses and miniscule chiffoned pleating, all terribly matching. Indeed, the clothes on show from that era are overly worked, encrusted and pleated within an inch of their lives and I gave the embroiderers and beaders a nod of appreciation and moved on. Nor did I think that lace was really up my street but the incrostazioni (applique of cut lace onto tulle) incorporated into 1970s bell sleeved long georgette dresses, the colour of Jersey milk, were exquisitely judged – slender restrained whisps of frocks perfect in their execution. And extremely wearable nearly 40 years on. They were my favourites. They remind me of candles and dinner parties and Californian beaches and long easy hair (a bit Charlie’s Angels).
I was surprised at how many of his clothes are sculpted and restrained (as well as the extravagantly fluted and pleated) particularly in the 1960s: a high collared black silk satin evening jacket heavy with jet fringing and a neatly pocketed green silk trapeze dress. His use of kimono sleeves rather than set in sleeves (sleeves which are a continuation of the bodice with a seam along the length of the arm, often with a triangular gusset set in under the arms which allow a garment to be snug but retain its fluidity) make his early clothes look immensely tactile and very comfortable. Such a different feel to the pinched in, tight jacket sleeves of the 2000s which just look mean, for women who don’t really eat.
There is such joy in this exhibition: Valentino has clearly made a lot of (very wealthy) women very happy. Happy because they can afford couture (I expect for some) or happy because these clothes are a joy to wear, because someone has carefully stitched and beaded and embroidered and created something of immense quality. And I take a lesson from it: be bold, wear colour, puff up those skirts and twirl a bit. Stick your chin out and be a woman.
This is a rich, important and exciting exhibition. It reaffirms the importance of fashion as an industry and doesn’t apologise for fashion’s frivolity. It’s a joy. Go and see it.
(Oh…and there’s always room in your summer wardrobe for a short cream heavy silk jacket in an easy shape with 3/4 sleeves…and a few beads…).