The Valentino show that closed the winter 2014 couture season was romantic, graceful and very much in the spirit of the house’s recent revival.
Backstage, Pre-Raphaelite paintings by artists like Alma-Tadema filled the mood board, along with images of Roman goddesses with transparent swathes of fabrics across nude bodies.
They reappeared quite literally in the show as airy dresses revealing – delicately – a lot of flesh.
‘Pagan goddesses, Imperial Rome, with a truth about beauty,’ said Maria Grazia Chiuri, as she and Pierpaolo Piccioli described the duo’s attitude.
The newly-minted Valentino has had a major influence on fashion, bringing back a sense of female privacy. Long sleeves and chaste dresses have been seen across the fashion universe.
‘Memory is an important part of our future’ – Pierpaolo Piccioli
But there has always been previously a sense of underlying reality, which was often missing at this couture show.
For a start, there were the colours – so much off-white, as if drawn from Roman statues, on and used for chaste day dresses, although Art Nouveau flower stalks in black on a white skirt made the look appealing.
Winter coats were tough to find, apart from a long green overcoat that blended with the fresh greenery on the backdrop. Or there was a feathered creation that had the feeling of an opera costume.
Other cover-ups came in tapestry fabrics, as though taken from historic furniture. And that sense of the past became increasingly evident in a floor-sweeping gown with a floral surface.
Flat sandals lacing up the leg placed the show somewhere in a Roman legend – certainly not in rain-drenched Paris.
‘Memory is an important part of our future,’ Pierpaolo Piccioli said.
But what about the history of Valentino, the founding designer who spent nearly half a century making clothes to woo and win his private clients? That is, after all, the essence of haute couture. The clothes that came out on the runway, however romantic, seemed a doubtful fit with Kim Kardashian, with her 21st-century body con, sitting front row.
Then there is Valentino the brand, which has had a youthquake revival without any of the shake-ups and dramas those words suggest. In fact, it is probably the established fashion house with the smoothest transfer to new hands.
There certainly is a following for the graceful and gentle gestures of the current design duo. And perhaps they would argue that practicality can be found in their ready-to-wear.
Valentino presents the essence and the dichotomy of haute couture today. For the customer? For the image? For fantasy – or for real?