What can I compare the level of my excitement about this exhibition to? Not sure. Put it this way – I bought tickets to the Valentino: Master of Couture 6 weeks before it opened in Somerset House. As Friday came I was up bright and early, got ready and an hour or so later found myself entering the glass doors of the South Wing.
A few flights of stars led to the basement where the exhibition was held. I entered the first room, carefully (and sadly) putting my camera back in my bag as photography wasn’t allowed (why, oh why?!), then suddenly stopped, amazed, as a photo of Tatiana Zavialova dressed in a red Valentino dress from the 1996 collection appeared before my eyes. It was heart warming to see a Russian top model from the 1990s opening this event – at first I couldn’t believe it, but then realised that it was her, squeaked with joy (in a quiet, lady-like manner, of course!) and moved to the second room.
The room was filled with memories – from personal notes sent by Donatella Versace, Miuccia Prada and Anna Wintour, photos of Jackie Kennedy, Diana Vreeland and the Royal family to the beautiful Valentino sketches.
The catwalk was next and became my most favourite part of the exhibition. For the very first time I saw couture dresses, all 137 of them, “up close and personal”. They were incredible, exquisite, stunning, magical and surreal. Every other dress was so near that I could touch the beading and embroidery and although I didn’t dare for obvious reasons, I did lean over the barrier a little to admire every single detail.
What can I say? The beauty of couture makes you feel quite emotional. It is hard to believe that each dress was made by human hands – the craftsmanship was so impeccable and dreamy that it seemed impossible to imagine how one would be able to create all the intricate details. It was pure art in one of its most beautiful forms.
There were daywear, coats, evening gowns and wedding dresses including Jacqueline Kennedy’s green satin evening gown and her 1968 wedding dress, cream organza evening ensemble worn by Audrey Hepburn, Diana Vreeland’s tunic and trousers, famous black velvet gown Julia Roberts chose for the Oscars in 2001. This was the moment when every dress told a story, made you stop and admire it in owe and dream, just for a few seconds, of what it would be like to wear Valentino Couture.
As I finally left the Catwalk room I could see a beautiful wedding dress downstairs. The pearl-encrusted ivory silk gown was designed by Valentino for Marie Chantal Miller in 1995 when she married Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece. The dress was made by 25 people and took four months and twelve different kinds of lace to complete. In addition Valentino designed 62 outfits for the wedding guests.
In the final room dedicated to the craftsmanship and les petite mains there were displays containing swatches and videos showing some of the techniques used by the Atelier. It was fascinating!
If you can get to London before March 2013, please go and see this beautiful exhibition. If not, you can browse Valentino’s on-line museum that contains over 5000 documents and images covering designers career from the very beginning.
Photo source: Valentino: Master of Couture exhibition poster, Tatjana Zavialova in Valentino by Gian Paolo Barbieri 1996, Valentino & his dresses, Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2007, Valentino Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2008, Valentino Couture Spring/Summer 2007, Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2005, Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2002, Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2001, Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2006, Valentino Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2002, Valentino Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2004 via stylebistro,com