"Valentino: Master of Couture" at Somerset House

by Katie on November 30, 2012

I say without doubt that it’s one of the best costume exhibitions I’ve ever seen. 

Valentino Garavani has been influencing droves of hyper chic women with his unmistakable trademark glamour for decades. His very Valentino red and his ability to create flounce with restraint makes him the choice for the lady who has ‘made-it’.

“Valentino:Master of Couture” at Somerset House is an ode to the man’s greatness – a celebration, if you will, of a career spent dressing the world’s most beautiful women who have had the money and the gravitas to seek out a true master. The exhibition features over 130 hand crafted designs worn by icons such as Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Sophia Loren and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The gowns shown are a history in fine haute couture and the fabrics and methods employed: faille, crepe de chine, charmeuse, cady, gazar, georgette, degrade colour, frogging and soutache can be seen. This is a master craftsman at work. Fashion design students and writers take note.

The range and depth of the collection shown is astounding. Yes, there are groupings of the little black dress and, more importantly, the fluid red evening dress (Valentino’s signature) but it is Valentino’s uncompromising vision and attention to detail that is highlighted. Savouring each piece like a delicacy, the viewer feels intimately drawn into this world of haute couture and true glamour, of the thousands of hours of intricate sewing of beadwork on haute couture gowns, of trailing chiffon in fuchsia, red and purple, of embroidery and fine ruching. 

The variety in design is vast and it is this that shows Valentino’s genius and vision as the handwriting is still there, still saying ‘I’m a Valentino’. Ahead of their time surely, Valentino’s collections are a snapshot in history – the mood, the feel, the headiness or the seriousness of the period they were constructed. Of the most stand out, simply because they show Valentino’s aim to be ‘dans-le-vent’ and to capture his clientele’s whims for high haute hippyness are painted silks which reek of late ’60s elegance. high dropped trailing backs and long A-line shifts in both ivory silk with splashes of coral red or black and green printed panthers. Very un-Valentino, actually, but oh so perfection because of it.

Or, we have the orange grouping (my personal favourite) that includes the salmon pink cady three piece pleated ensemble that was Grace Kelly’s (no less) and the satin fringed poncho tiered with white organza tiered trousers that are so ‘now’ they hurt. And that is why Valentino’s genius will never be dimmed. Each piece is as relevant today as it ever was. Owning Valentino was always uber stylish. Now it just makes good sense. These are archive pieces and costume history.

Valentino may now not head his house, bowing out after 45 years in fashion in 2007 but his legacy lies deep in the brand. His archive is a lesson to designers going forth. If you want to be serious, pay attention to detail and keep your heritage and archive in tact. How very Valentino.

The exhibition is curated by Alistair O’Neill for Somerset House with Patrick Kinmoth and Antonio Monfreda, long-time collaborators of Valentino.

The exhibition runs from 29th Nov 2012-3rd March 2013. (10am-6pm daily/9pm on Thursdays) at Somerset House, The Strand, London, WC2R 1LA. Admissions: £12.50/Concessions £9.

Take a tour of the Valentino archive museum online.


Imagery by Peter MacDiarmid

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