Magic was in the air at the Valentino couture show, in the flower petals strewn on the floor and, most especially, in the slithering, antique velvet dresses. As maidens steeped in grace, long hair caught in gilded jewels of headbands, walked through intersecting rooms, to the music of Debussy's Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un Faune and Lakmé's Flower Duet, the audience — including, of course, Valentino in person — sat spellbound.
This collection probably makes no sense as a retail endeavour — no real day clothes, nothing to wear for a smart summer lunch. But, as a yearning for beauty and an expression of the finest handwork, it was starlit. "The body is free," said Maria Grazia Chiuri, as she and fellow designer Pierpaolo Piccioli went through the "mood board" of figures postured for early modern dance.
Here was Isadora Duncan, there clothing alchemist Mariano Fortuny. Maria Grazia Chiuri announced proudly that the current Fortuny company had worked with Valentino to create new versions of their famous velvets with burnt-out surfaces and painted patches.
The collection was almost entirely an ode to dresses — ones that ran down the body, mostly with a deep "v" at the front. Even when arms were covered, the fabric ran liquid, emphasising body shape and movement. Occasionally, skirts were short and wide, which looked unconvincing. But with the models frequently on the turn, backs bared, dressed just with a rope of adornment, the effect was fantastical.
Floor-sweeping coats, dense with embroidery, were magnificent, although at that point the collection teetered towards costume.
Why not? Every piece was ravishing. And after a season where not only have collections often seemed dull, but the entire definition of couture is in question, this Valentino show was a moment of fashion serenity joy.