Valentino: Master of Couture at Somerset House

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The destination for London fashion, Somerset House is currently home to one of the industry’s most beloved designers, Valentino. A beautifully curated exhibition that plays on the traditional runway show, turning it on its head to showcase 50 years of exquisite design; the designer’s ‘own vision of elegance’ will be on display until 3 March 2013.

Offering a view into his private, personal world, a world that has seen one man craft an illustrious career spanning five decades, the Valentino – Master of Couture exhibition takes us from his early Parisian training days through to the inception of his Rome atelier. Punctuated by invitations to his many collections, correspondence with names that have set the cultural scene alight – from Vogue US editor Anna Wintour to footwear maestro Manolo Blahnik and acclaimed Hollywood actress Meryl Streep, whose note dated 10 May 1991 came a month before the birth of her youngest child, Louisa. A heavily pregnant Streep was forced to decline an invitation to the designer’s 30th anniversary celebrations which were set to fall on the “very weekend” her daughter was due. An enduring friendship, over ten years later Valentino made a cameo appearance alongside Streep’s starring role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

In a world dominated by the power of celebrity, the list of names associated with Valentino makes him one of the most powerful forces on the globe. Dressing everyone from Madonna to a Vanderbilt socialite, the designer has carved an exceptional groove into not only the history of fashion but the world at large. Photographed with Jacqueline Onassis and Sophia Loren, featured in almost every press publication in the world, from Vanity Fair and W to Vogue Italia and Time, and renowned for his distinctive aesthetic; Valentino has become synonymous with the ideal of classic style.

Remarking on the relationship his designs have forged with both the fashion elite and his loyal fan-base, Valentino said: “I get inspired by the close complicity that exists between a woman and her clothes…” [Fall/Winter 2001-2002 Collection]. Crafting magnificent garments from simple silhouettes, the catwalk along which visitors to the exhibition must walk reverses the traditional notion of the fashion show while simultaneously playing on the importance of celebrity in affirming the very designs on show.

Chairs set up on either side of the walkway are adorned alternately with mannequins bedecked in Valentino’s couture creations, from a 1959 navy wool cocktail dress through to a pale green Chantilly lace evening gown, designed by Pier Paolo Piccoli and Maria Grazia Chiuri – the Valentino creative directors since 2008 – for the SS12 collection. While the remaining seats are labelled, as is the custom with the front row at a catwalk show, with names of women Valentino has dressed over the decades, including Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway and Daphne Guinness.

Marvelling at the creative genius that has resulted in exquisitely constructed gowns some embellished with glittering Swarovski crystals and rhinestones, others strewn with delicate floral appliqué and many revealing the intricate techniques which have long distinguished Valentino’s designs within the industry. These same techniques are the subject of closer examination as the exhibition continues within the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House. From Valentino’s unique pagine method of leafing pages of material in layered discs to the Rose di Volant technique of creating an open rose formation from lengths of organza silk; the designer’s work is deconstructed at the culmination of this unique presentation.

To book tickets visit somersethouse.org.uk/valentino.

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