Valentino: 50 years of couture

Fall-Winter HC black velvet evening dress

Fall-Winter HC black velvet evening dress

Valentino has dominated haute couture, the Italian style, for five decades. And, London honours him with a retrospective of his dresses, coveted by princesses, actresses and socialites.

Some 137 dresses, worn by the most glamorous women in the world — like Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Carla Bruni and Farah Diba, are the highlight of ‘Valentino: Master of Couture’, being hosted by Somerset House in London till March next year.
Innovatively designed, the dresses are arranged on two sides of a 60-metre catwalk, with mannequins sitting or standing like the audience at a fashion show and visitors walking the runway like models. The feel is heightened by placement of hand-written placards showing names of the front row guests on the chairs.
The catwalk is intimidating, but the haute couture dresses make the role reversal enjoyable.
“This is not an anniversary celebration although it is the 50th anniversary of Valentino’s designs. It is actually a celebration of haute couture and the way it is made,” says Shonagh Marshall, an assistant curator at Somerset House. The exhibition has been curated by Alistair O’Neill for Somerset House with Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda, of the internationally renowned design team Kinmonth Monfreda, in collaboration with Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti.
The highlights include Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress from Valentino’s 1968 White Collection and Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece’s ivory silk wedding gown. The pearl-encrusted bridal gown, combining 12 kinds of lace and a four-and-a-half metre train, was completed in four months by 25 seamstresses.
“Every dress is a highlight in haute couture — all of them are handmade, with the best materials and fabric. Each of these day and evening wear are true pieces of art, and have been rarely shown outside the catwalk or special events,” Shonagh adds.
“Each of the dresses here has a story; what brings these dresses to life is the clients who wore them. They necessarily were not famous, but they were connoisseurs of his work and I think that’s what was important to Valentino.”
The dresses are not displayed chronologically, but are grouped in 14 clusters by themes. The mannequins are coloured by decades. The exhibition also highlights behind-the-scenes work at the atelier to highlight couture techniques.
Valentino, who trained in Paris and worked with designers like Guy Laroche before launching the House of Valentino in Rome in 1959, designed his first collection in 1962. His final couture show was held in 2008 in Paris.

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