Long Live the Emperor: Valentino Couture

Everyone needs a little coffee with their cream and sugar, and indeed Valentino’s designs have always been luxuriously rich and sweet. The fanfare over Valentino: The Last Emperor, the documentary directed by Vanity Fair Special Correspondent Matt Tyrnauer revived interest in the house whose glamorous reputation transcends trends but was recently rocked by the departure of Valentino himself in January 2008. But only the recent couture show, the second by fledgling heads of the house Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli could lead me to actually look forward to the possible darker and more complex vision in upcoming collections by the Valentino label. The two former accessories designers for the label layer black lace over nude fabric for a series of slinky, sumptuous evening dresses with a slight slip of irony peeking through the meticulous beading, intricate layers of lacework and robust ribbons. With the simple black and flesh palette, lace masks and lingerie details adding a Story of O erotic frisson to the boxy black coats, the luxurious look has somehow just enough spice to be compellingly uncanny but not outright creepy. Chiuri and Piccioli sent pouty American model Karlie Kloss in a fitted, ladylike off-the-shoulder cocktail dress that Kim Novak or Elizabeth Taylor could have nicely filled out, pared with a black lace mask and nude stilettos. A few inches longer on the skirt and the look would have seemed anachronistic. If the top did not include cap-sleeves and a scalloped A-line neck, the whole dress might have tipped from sexy to desperate, despite the skilful craftsmanship. But Chiuri and Piccioli avoided creating a costume or a cliché, and instead, gave us a stunning, fresh, little dress.