Coral dress Valentino


…..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…).



Filed under dressmaking, embroidery, fashion, sewing

7 responses to “Valentino

  1. What an interesting critic of an exhibition, thank you so much for that. Fashion is something I know very little about so I enjoyed your post very much. Like you I tend to fall into the austere camp – I don’t even do pattern let alone beads! However, I take note about your point about being proud to be a woman because I think sometimes my generation are too busy trying to be super human in all walks of life that we sometimes come over as too strong, independent, capable and assume looking more feminine shows a weakness but of course that’s nonsense.
    … off to re-evaluate the outfit I just threw on now 🙂

    • Thanks Niki. I fell victim to the ‘colour as the frivolous enemy’ in my teens and wore black and not much else ’til I was in my late 20s (even my wedding dress was black…with a bit of gold) and certainly never wore pattern. I’ve just looked down at myself….I have on patterned 1950s-esque skirt in all sorts of colours and a yellow/grey stripey jumper. I’ve changed a bit!! The ‘power suit’ has a lot to answer for with many women firmly believe that severe clothing in the workplace means a logical, powerful mind…and still we’re governed by what men think of us! Makes my blood boil. Go and buy something wickedly patterned! x

  2. sue wood

    I loved the exhibition, particularly the 1959 navy wool panelled dress which could so easily be worn now and the budellini work on some of the dresses. absolutely works of art. My main reason for going was to see the dress worn by Julia Roberts for the Oscars. A masterpiece! What a lucky girl to be able to wear it.

    • Hi Sue
      Yes, it was a great exhibition. Have you seen the Amies/Hartnell at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermonsey St? It’s well worth a look (am currently organising my thoughts for the next post…there’s a lot to think about, not least the reasons for the demise of British couture).

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