Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.
Greek myths, Shakespearean references and superb handwork produced the outstanding show of the Paris couture week
31 Января 2017
I have always thought that beauty is eternal and fashion transient. But the Valentino show stood out in Paris couture week for its light-handed grace, wistful elegance, purity and poetry.
Pleats cascading across the body suggested an ancient column shivering to life. And designer Pierpaolo Piccioli said that in a turning world, with no time to dream, he wanted to give a sense of eternity.
His mission was written in a statement he hung above the models' entrance, laid out like a poem reading: "You are living in a dream. Keep walking in your dream. Feel your dream and breathe your dream."
As the ethereal young women walked through the different rooms, there was a pale palette of faded greens and pinks, with the occasional splash of red. Studying the dense programme notes, all the outfits were named after mythical Grecian figures from Daphne and Eurydice to Eros and Zeus.
This was an important collection for Pierpaolo — his first couture since Maria Grazia Chiuri, his design partner of 25 years, left for Dior and who shown her couture collection earlier in the week.
But the "dreamer" of the two presented a powerful collection that was as strong in spirit as it was in execution. It opened with a minute's silence in memory of Franca Sozzani, editor in chief of Italian Vogue who died in December.
Why the pleats? Not since Mariano Fortuny invented the poetry of pleating a century ago have vertical lines been used to such effect. But realising the importance of designing for today's woman, Pierpaolo's straight lines were loose and free. They might open as an ankle length tunic over trousers, or as an infinity of vertical silken braids.
Such is the designer's rapport with his staff that he refuses to denigrate them to "petites mains" or "little hands". He told me that one of his seamstresses finishes off each outfit with a little flower - a personal and private gesture.
"I wanted to get this idea of colours that are gone… and to keep the essence of a colour, as though it's faded away," Pierpaolo told me.
"So all the colours of the collection are as if they were once super colourful and over time they become more beautiful," he added.
Visible flowers were some of the masterly effects: fat, flat white roses, requiring 2,000 stitches, or macrame flowers adding no bulk to the airy outfits.
Then there were the poetic colours, inspired by the symbolist paintings of Odilon Redon, that brought in shades of white from ivory to putty and so many other painterly constructs.
The hypnotic effects of the simple, vertical lines intensified with craftsmanship ended in a prolonged roar of applause as Pierpaolo took his bow and kissed his wife.
Should the designer have included some more obviously "practical" clothes for work and play as founder Valentino, sitting front row, might have done in his time? To quote William Shakespeare: "To sleep, perchance to dream".
The turning, churning world — and not only in fashion — deserved this moment of grace.
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