I had the privilege of visiting Valentino before the show. In a long conversation with designers Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, I learned so much about their thought processes, from the concept of an African inspiration to a mood board of early 20th-century artists such as Brancusi and Picasso. We also talked about the workmanship created in the dedicated ateliers of the Roman couture house.
Tiny beads, worked in Masai style as ribs curling around a black dress, were as impressive as a jungle print on a bomber hoodie jacket with a fringed-hem skirt peeping underneath.
It was not just the primeval animals and graphic patterns that drew attention, there was also alabaster-white decoration on a long, white chiffon dress; whispy feathers at wrists and neck; and moulded white jewellery made by terracotta experts.
The bags alone looked like tribal artworks tamed into a clutch or shopper. They were all hand-painted with absolute attention to detail, while the shoes had tribal masks worked into the heel. This was craftsmanship at the level of couture.
So it was with real excitement that I sat in the tent in the Jardin des Tuileries to watch Africa come to life in Paris.
The long dark dresses and shorter lace outfits that opened the show built a background on which to impose an orange hem and wrists decorated with beads.
Like a drum beating louder to the African soundtrack, tensions began to rise with a dress in mustard yellow. It was in the cover-up style that the Valentino duo introduced to fashion.
Then there was lace and a sense of anthropology in dresses that, even though short, still carried a sense of correctness. Too correct, perhaps, to reflect the real Africa.
The design duo did what they do best: clothes respectful to women, such as a beige dress with rivulets of pleats draped above and below the bust line.
The long-line silhouette became wearisome across 90 outfits, although the designers’ experiments with colour included an artistic mix of green, orange and brown and a print of giraffe or elephant.
What was missing was any sense of a crescendo that is the essence of beating drums. Nor was there much sense of the joy that springs out of Africa. This was a rare occasion when the purity and poetry of the Valentino clothes did not seem quite enough.