The Paris haute couture week ended this season with a grande finale from Valentino, and what an homage to the finest fabrics and craftsmanship it was. The collection brought the audience, as creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri hoped it would, into ‘a dream’. Reminiscent of an epoque of gilded silks and sun-kings, dresses were inspired by secret gardens and given titles such as “Le silence de tournesols” – quiet sunflowers.
Entering the dream of Valentino is made easy by Somerset House, who are currently hosting their own celebration of the master couturier. Featuring over 130 handcrafted designs, Valentino: Master of Couture recreates the catwalk but reverses the roles, where visitors get to stomp down a runway to view an ‘audience’ dressed entirely in Valentino couture.
At the couture show, the designers emphasised the human cost behind the dresses, extending the story of the garden – one where you see the ornate grace but never smell the gardener’s sweat. One organza confection took 500 hours of hand-rolling to produce the cage-like piping encasing it.
This diligent work to create one-of-a-kind dresses is similarly honoured by Somerset House, where beneath their catwalk of dresses lies a room showcasing the techniques of the craftsmen who made the above magic possible, such as the Budellini, unique to Valentino, or Pagine – layers upon layers of organza silk disks brought together to fall like pages as the wearer moves.
“Each of these designs have a beautiful story,” says Valentino. “The atelier crafted each so diligently by hand, taking hours, sometimes days to complete. The details are incredibly intricate, though outside the runway shows and events, the dresses have rarely been seen, so to be able to showcase these designs at Somerset House, where they can be seen in great detail by the public, is very unique.”
Valentino: Master of Couture runs from 29 November 2012 to 3 March 2013 at Somerset House. £12.50 admission