Valentino Paints London Red

Opening this week at London’s Somerset House, the new exhibition “Valentino: Master of Couture” celebrates the esteemed career of arguably the first Italian couturier. Hosting 130 handcrafted pieces and personal ephemera, the show aims to offer a new perspective of Valentino’s oeuvre. As exhibition curator Shonagh Marshal explained, “It is definitely not a legacy thing, it is not retrospective, it is very thematic, we are looking at the man and how he developed Italian fashion.”

Equally prophetic and prolific, Valentino’s archives have been plundered for this showcase. “We are portraying two themes,” said Marshal. “As you walk in, we focus on his glamorous home; it is a backstage view into something that is never really been shown within an exhibition on Valentino before.” Following retrospectives on the designer in Rome and Singapore, Marshal and her colleagues had a challenge to find a unique perspective on Valentino. “It is a glimpse to the visitor of something more personal and intimate,” said Marshal.

The gallery’s second floor conjures the excitement of his famed fashion shows with an unexpected role-reversal. “Upstairs, the visitor walks along a long mezzanine transformed into a catwalk where the audience is a collection of mannequins dressed in Valentino. It gives an idea of some of the people who wore these clothes, like socialites and celebrities,” said Marshal. His awareness of the power of the celebrity and its allure is an interesting aspect the exhibition touches upon, especially as the Oscars, and red carpets in general, have a lot to thank Valentino for.

The exhibition closes on a high: “We have Princess Mary Chantal of Greece’s wedding dress,” boasts Marshal. The white gown demonstrates Valentino’s enduring craftsmanship and delicate touch.

Not many designers have dubbed a colour, but he has. And, over a career that spanned the better part of half a century, Valentino‘s signature red gowns have been seen on some of the most celebrated beauties of the time—from Jackie Kennedy Onassis, to Grace Kelly, to Gwyneth Paltrow.