Thursday, 03 January 2013
The V Sign
The legendary couturier Valentino dressed everyone from royalty to Hollywood icons. Sam Taylor takes a front seat at a sparkling new exhibition
By Sam TaylorBadly cut dresses are rather like badly chosen men: they tend to cling in all the wrong places. From his exquisite salon in Rome’s Palazzo Mignanelli, the Italian couturier Valentino spent more than half a century choreographing only the most perfect combinations.
It is said that when designing, he would imagine the wearer suddenly caught in a flurry of flashbulbs; that being ‘camera ready’ was built into the warp and weft of the clothes. As far as he was concerned, if you were nipping out to the atelier, you were nipping out to the atelier with panache. ‘Every moment of the day is equally important, so clothes are chosen with that in mind,’ he once explained.
Valentino Garavani is that rare thing, an Italian trained at the grand schools and couture houses of Paris who in the late 1950s dared to take his skills home and establish a couture house that went on to rival any of his contemporaries.
Until his arrival around the corner to the Spanish Steps, Rome was known mainly for ready-made clothes and good leather shoes. It was also a growing destination for foreign film directors with costume wardrobes to fill and American actresses in tow.
It was on one of her off -set shopping trips during the lming of Cleopatra in 1963 that Elizabeth Taylor first became a client.
By the mid-1960s he adopted the single letter V as his own unique logo and added Audrey Hepburn, Princess Margaret, the Begum Aga Khan and Jacqueline Kennedy to his list – the latter ordered six black-and-white dresses, which she wore during the year following JFK’s assassination. Valentino later designed Jackie’s wedding dress when she married Aristotle Onassis.
Anna Wintour, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Sienna Miller, Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elizabeth Hurley and Anne Hathaway were all sworn devotees until his retirement in 2008.
The exhibition dedicated to his life’s work, currently at Somerset House in London, is a masterpiece of curating and design. Partly laid out like a catwalk show, visitors walk down a ‘red carpet’ past seats draped in 130 of his exquisite creations, interspersed with empty chairs sporting the names of famous front-row clients. It gives the viewer the sense of being in a film, rather like wearing one of his dresses.
From the 1959 tulle evening dress in his trademark Valentino red, to the white crêpe georgette dress with organza volant, it is di cult to choose a favourite from the line-up. The plissé concoctions that made him famous are impossible to resist, but for me, it wasn’t a dress but a 1967 leopard- print wool gabardine trouser suit that quietly purrs private plane.
Valentino: Master Of Couture runs until 3 March at Somerset House, in the Embankment Galleries, South Wing, Strand, London WC2: 020- 7845 4600, www.somersethouse.org.uk
Valentino: Master Of Couture A Private View, published by Rizzoli, priced £22, is available at the exhibition.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“THERE is great satisfaction to be had in properly ironed garments that look as if they have just come out of the shop window.”The Lady. You Can’t Iron? 19th February, 1953
PRIVATE HOUSE in Andover/Winchester area requires personable, experienced, professional cook with own transport (live-out). Must be calm, adaptable, energetic, happy to use seasonal produce from garden and able to provide healthy, imaginative dishes. In addition to producing meals for owners, required to provide lunch for estate staff during week. Usual hours 0800-1600, Monday-Friday, but flexibility required for w/e and evening work. Salary negotiable. Contact: Apply Box 15495Apply now
Q: The Queen has received a £5m boost in the funds she receives from the taxpayer to carry out her official duties. Do you approve?
Yes - the Queen does a great job and is well worth it - 59.5%
No - the UK economy is struggling and this is unfair - 40.5%