by Alex R. Travers
For Pre-Fall ’14, Valentino’s Maria Grazie Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli took on the roles of lepidopterologists—experts in the field of large insects. Except their insects were beautiful butterflies embroidered onto shifts, skirts, and coats and needle-punched into jackets. (I didn’t ask their PR team, but it looked as if Lesage did the embroideries.) Nice. The duo also printed the butterfly pattern onto pants and dyed a fur coat that, in fact, brought the Lepidoptera to life.
But we know that when it comes to craftsmanship, Chiuri and Picciolo are without peer. The story of one of their silk rollers developing carpel tunnel syndrome after spending something like 500 hours hand-rolling silk lining for one dress is one for the history books. You could see that couture-like dedication today in the embroidered lace formal wear the designers do so well. Or in the clever silhouettes they re-shaped from last couture season, like the sheaths with stitched-in capes and curving seams down the front of the dresses.
Speaking of silhouettes, there was a new one today, one that Alber Elbaz executed perfectly at Lanvin last week in the form of a tent dress. Except, unlike Elbaz’s, the absence of pockets and sleeves made the Valentino version look column-like when it stood still. Even when the dress moved, it felt more like a tabard than a tent. Chiuri and Piccioli also brought back that morally ambiguous woman and her dresses from Delft—the girl lifted from the Dutch genre paintings of Vermeer, ter Borch, de Hooch, and van Hoogstraten. For Pre-Fall, she wore a collared column in a soft textile print or a spectacularly embroidered mid-calf floral dress with cap sleeves. They were both simple and stunning. After all, subtle, seductive beauty has stood the test of time.
There were other superb moments: an embroidered tulle dress with a feathered collar and sleeves, a gilded shift with sea green brocading. In sum, there was something here for Valentino women of all tastes and ages.