Jun 17, 2008
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Valentino on show in Paris again five months after retirement

Jun 17, 2008

PARIS, June 17, 2008 (AFP) - Five months after bidding farewell to the Paris catwalks at a final haute couture collection in January, Italian designer Valentino is back in the French capital with a major retrospective of his five decades in fashion.

Mr Valentino - Photo : Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

The exhibition entitled "Valentino, themes and variations," is the first time the Musee des Arts Decoratifs has paid such a compliment to a living Italian designer.

"It is also a unique opportunity to be able to assess a career immediately after a designer has stopped creating," says Pamela Golbin, who curated the exhibition.

The show was already in the pipeline when Valentino announced that he was retiring at the age of 75, which gave an added impetus to make it happen.

The 225 models on display, almost exclusively from his haute couture collections, were selected by Golbin from the fashion house's archives to illustrate the designer's distinctive style, which has made him a firm favourite with Hollywood stars and crowned heads.

While Valentino never claims to have changed the face of fashion like some of his contemporaries, notably Yves Saint Laurent who trained in Paris in the golden age of couture, he has always been true to his own interpretation of how to make women look beautiful.

"As early as 1959, when he opened his house in Rome, he created a stylistic vocabulary, which he has spent the next 49 years refining," says Golbin. This is why she chose to order the exhibition thematically, rather than chronologically.

"Mr. Valentino designs clothes that are fashionable but not a fashion that goes out of date." Some showcases contain clothes spanning the entire half century, but it is far from obvious whether a sleek cocktail frock or draped evening gown is 1960s vintage or from one of his recent collections. "They are timeless," says Golbin.

The maestro himself, touring the exhibition before it opens to the public on Tuesday, thoroughly approved of the layout. The juxtaposition of "clothes belonging to the past and today shows that I am consistent in my ideas. The difference is so minimal that some things from a long while ago could certainly still be worn now."

The first floor of the exhibition includes dresses from his first show in Florence's Sala Bianca in 1962, which wowed the American buyers, and his famous 1968 all white collection -- when all the other designers were using lots of colour -- from which Jackie Kennedy, already a friend, chose a lacy cocktail tunic in vanilla crepe for her marriage to Aristotle Onassis on the Greek island of Skorpios.

There is also the little black dress worn by Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 film "La Notte" and a recent red-carpet gown worn by Julia Roberts for the Oscars in 2000.

But Golbin has deliberately avoided too many celebrity connections to select the pieces which are the most representative and characteristic of Valentino's signature.

To convey this more clearly, she limited her palette to graphic black and white and Valentino's fetish poppy red, which was inspired by the sight of women in their boxes at the opera in Spain when he was a teenager, looking to him "like baskets of flowers".

"The silhouette is always very strong. Movement is also very important for Valentino, his designs are never static. The models can be still but look as if they are moving," says Golbin, pointing to the dynamic effect of white satin ribbons streaming from the back of a black velvet evening gown, the three-dimensional illusion of interwoven black and white ribbons on the front of a jacket, and the way the hem of a black dress is gently puffed out by white silk roses.

A second floor explores Valentino's fondness for florals -- tea frocks with posies of mimosa or poppies at the waist -- and animal prints, such as tiger, leopard, zebra and even giraffe for a 1960 cagoule coat and pants in black and white satin. Feathers, geometric prints, embroidery and pleating, including his hallmark "budellini" silk cording, are all showcased.

It is rounded off with a selection from his farewell couture collection, a fitting homage to the Italian couturier whom the hard-to-please French fashionistas are happy to call one of their own.

by Sarah Shard

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