Valentino: Master of Couture

Liz Taylor met Richard Burton while wearing one of his dresses; Jackie Kennedy married Onassis in one and Julia Roberts received her Best Actress Oscar wearing one of his ‘vintage’ designs.  The Americans call him the ‘Rolls Royce’ of fashion designers.  May I present …. Mr Valentino Garavani, best known as Valentino.

With a 50-year career starting in the late 1950s it was 1962 when, for the first time, he showed a couture collection at the Pitti Palace in Florence to much critical acclaim. Glitterati were soon beating a path to his door. He started his apprenticeship with Jean Dessès in Paris who was impressed by the speed at which he sketched.  When designing he draws up to 30 or 40 sketches a day and then starts choosing the material. Hundreds of hours of work go into each Couture gown, made in the Valentino atelier, and they are all sewn by hand.

“Even as a young boy, my passion was to design, and I have been very lucky to be able to do what I have loved all my life. There can be few greater gifts than that”. Valentino Garavani

A major new exhibition celebrating the life and work of Valentino featuring dresses from the couture catwalk and red carpet, as well as designs commissioned by private clients, much of which has never been seen outside the Valentino atelier, is on at Somerset House, “Valentino: Master of Couture” running until 3 March 2013, so don’t miss it.

The exhibition starts with a private view of Valentino’s world seen through previously unseen photographs from his personal archive including couture show invitations and images of Valentino at work.

A display of fashion show ephemera belonging to Valentino
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House

Then walk the catwalk and look into the ‘audience’ of mannequins dressed in over 130 Valentino Couture worn by the likes of Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. “Each of these designs have a beautiful story,” says Valentino. And what’s great is they are are on open display so the craftsmanship is clearly visible.

Valentino: Master of Couture Exhibition
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Gerry Images for Somerset House

This beautiful black velvet evening dress was worn by Julia Roberts to the 73rd Academy Awards in Los Angeles, 2001 at which she won Best Actress for Erin Brockovich, The wearing of this ‘vintage’ dress is thought to have kick started the whole vintage trend which is still going strong in 2013.

1992-1993 Fall Winter HC © Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum

This next dress, from Spring Summer HC 1998 is hand-painted – how divine!

© Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum

The exhibition includes the most beautiful wedding dress of Princess Marie Chantal of Greece. Pearl encrusted, with a four and a half metre train and made with 10 different types of lace, it took 25 seamstresses over four months to make.

© Peter Macdiarmid

And what better way to end the exhibition then a behind the scenes access to the Valentino atelier – the beauty of the work of les petites mains who sew each stitch by hand – and the world of Italian couture.

Lengths of organza silk - Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Lengths of organza silk – Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Valentino: Master of Couture until 3 March 2013
Somerset House, Embankment Galleries, South Wing
Daily 10.00-18.00 until 21.00 Thursdays
£12.50/£9 concessions
Advance booking is recommended. Tickets are available on the day from the exhibition admissions desk.

The Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum is a great resource for the life and works of Valentino with interactive and multimedia information

Valentino by Susy Menkes, Matt Tyrnauer and Armando Chitolina  (Taschen) is a great book, originally released as a limited collectors’ edition this is the unlimited popular edition.

Well worth watching is Valentino-The Last Emperor – a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

And I couldn’t leave you without showing this stunning red carpet number worn by Anne Hathaway to the Academy Awards in 2011.

© Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum

Valentino – Luxury, Elegance, Couture.

 “There are only three things I can do – make a dress, decorate a house and entertain people”. Valentino Garavani

I think Valentino, you have many more talents than that!

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