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The pink roses bursting over the shapely body of what was once called a ‘mannequin’ was an intriguing study of haute couture art by Giambattista Valli.
The designer took over the graceful Shangri-La Hotel in Paris, the better to show the intricacies of handwork, mostly frou-frou ruffles of feather-light fabrics – including the plumes themselves. It was all in deliberate contrast to the other project for Valli’s atelier: working out how to create a mini collection for H&M that will go on sale in November.
“Because there are so many things to do with H&M, I asked myself if I want to take pleasure in sitting and working with my atelier to be the full creator of Giambattista Valli,” the designer said, standing in front of the fuzz of fabrics.
“I wanted to do it for a long time – and this really is the time,” he continued. “Sometimes things on the runway miss the magic. So I wanted to do something magical with sheer fabrics and very classical techniques. And that is very difficult to do. This for me is like the Sala Bianca (the original location in Florence for showing Italian fashion), or Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech. I said to myself, ‘How beautiful it could be to do that.’ It looks very effortless here, and I love that, but it was very complex to do.”
Valli’s words summarised the situation that haute couture finds itself in today. To get attention amid a flood of different fashion lines – Cruise, Resort, Pre-Fall and Collection – couture has to distinguish itself – and do that globally. At the high end, it means fantastical shows in far-off places, hence this season’s Fendi at the heart of ancient Rome by the Coliseum and Dolce & Gabbana among the ancient Greek ruins in Sicily. For designer shows in general, the first half of this year has moved models from Japan to Marrakesh and to so many more countries both East and West.
What is lost in these theatrical and often exceptional performances is the intimacy and the craftsmanship that is supposed to be at the heart of haute couture. Pierpaolo Piccioli from Valentino brings the workers from his atelier in Rome to Paris each couture season and this time closed the show by bringing this white-jacketed team down the runway. But it is rare for the details of couture to be shown to more than a handful of fashion editors. And that, according to Valli, means missing the essence of haute couture.
“The conversation should be about shape and volume and the art of haute couture now. I wanted it to be an ode to my atelier,” Valli said. “Look at these roses – you see the love and the passion and also a kind of sharpness. Then you go into another room and it’s about draping. On one side you see the sharpness of cutting, almost like paper, so the shape is a silhouette. Then, from the very beginning you see the clothes reflected in mirrors. It is the idea of what haute couture is and also what the DNA of Giambattista Valli is. It is almost like pencil on paper, then scissors on fabric.
“This is like my duality,” he continued. “It’s like two sides of the same point: something that is very sharp and very clean and slick; and a bouquet, or something that is very Giambattista – always the two opposites and finding a balance between the two. Everything is about the art of draping and the art of cutting.”
At least true couture customers have a choice: the close-up and the spectacle. And Valli proved that even in a fashion era when the winner is the one who makes the most noise and visual drama, there can also be a powerful quiet side.