Valentino’s Growing Garden

The best thing about being early for a party is watching how it takes shape, one guest at a time. The invitation to see the Valentino show, which closed Paris couture week last night at the Hotel Rothschild, read: “salon IV,” which turned out to be one of the very best places for people-watching of the past three days. That’s because Valentino is a family affair with a young generation of clients, some of them daughters of women who have been wearing “Val” since they were girls themselves.

The genuine generational feeling was obvious last night, when we spied a circle of seven young beauties sitting with Vogue Italia‘s Franca Sozzani. Among them were Eugenie Niarchos, Vittoria Puccini, and Alexia Niedzielski; all three mistresses of a certain European long-legged, floaty silk dressiness with hair left to flow, or up in braids for Niarchos, and minimal makeup, as though they had just run over from home to see the collection. One of them was wearing hiking boots! Their style seemed thoughtfully uncalculated, a mix of Valentino and favorite things. Then there was Cameron Silver of Los Angeles’ vintage emporium Decades, in town for the launch of his book Decades: A Century of Fashion, at Moynat wearing his own recolored Valentino nylon camo jacket. Across the room were Natalia Vodianova with Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giametti, who are in the unique position of watching designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli carry on where they left off.  Down the aisle from them was a little girl with her mother in plum-front row seats. Family generational indeed—turns out it was Pierpaolo Piccioli’s wife and daughter.

This show was a garden walk through Valentino’s past, with Chiuri and Piccioli as contemporary mix masters. Imagining the ornate railings of a formal park, they covered a nude tulle dress in red silk grillework. The garden gates continued in the airy curlicues of a black cape over white froth, or in white on the transparent bodice of a white dress. The effect was ethereal and fresh, a new application for an age-old technique requiring hundreds of hours. While totally unadorned cape dresses left everything to shape, guipure lace covered with a garden of crochet flowers was blown out into an dense hourglass. All of this looked like a garden of creation, with Chiuri and Piccioli stirring up classic couture techniques and shapes in a contemporary way.