Italian blood runs through the fashion world, from its designers to its production skills. But how does Valentino keep on getting fashion right, and Giambattista Valli build a business where so many have stumbled?

Valentino: Light fantastic

The fabric in front of me at Valentino spread around the model’s body, a pleasing swish and crackle suggesting some historic material from a royal court. Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli lifted the mass of material with a single finger, waved the white bundle at me and said, “I wanted to feel some extravagance and wildness from the material. But I worked first with the shape and the sleeves, making the shirt as a wrapped dress. It’s is about purity – but also extravagance.”

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The success of brand Valentino is the wonder of the fashion world. Because whereas designers generally succeed – or should we say survive – one season with one collection, Pierpaolo appears to be as versatile as he is virtuous.

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As Pierpaolo put it, “Grisaille is a monochromatic metaphor describing another quest into the spirit of couture, which is Valentino’s true essence.”

The designer has not just revitalised the famous house for a new generation. He has also solved the paradox of haute couture by making the ready-to-wear meaningful but approachable. Every single one of the opening white outfits – from wafting marabou over crisp tailored shorts to a semi-transparent shirt-dress – was smart, fresh and wearable.

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Yet, at the same time, there were echoes of the religious connotations attached to white, as seen on Pierpaolo’s mood board. There was something so pristine about this supposedly non-colour that also echoed the famous ‘White’ collection of 1968 by the original Valentino (Garavani) back in Florence half a century ago. mood changed from colourless to vivid: With the currently popular jungle prints, which Pierpaolo had drawn from the wild art of 19th-century French artist Henri Rousseau, the designer had four different registers – white, vivid colour, pattern, and finally bringing all that together with white dresses just tinged with fluo colours at the edges and with a white-on-white jungle embroidery.

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“I just wanted to get some elements of extravagance and wildness from the material,” said Pierpaolo, who received yet another standing ovation – not as a ritual, but from the heart.

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Giambattista Valli: Flower child

Big vases spilling over with flowers in the interconnected rooms at Giambattista Valli’s show were symbolic of the designer’s spirit. The clothes were made with a floral inspiration.

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“I love the idea that it is her apartment and this is the garden that she was passionate about,” said the designer, standing in front of the mood board and explaining how both women and flowers were his joint passions.“We depend on women – their aesthetic and the way they interpret themselves, the way that they are nomadic, curious about the rest of the world,” the designer said, selecting muses as he chooses flowers. Peggy Guggenheim, the art patron, was on Valli’s list, along with other highborn society women, past and present, from Sabine Getty to Eugenia Niarchos.

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So the designer said it with flowers, but adding to the floral patterns came sharper thin checks or lines drawn in circles or ovals. This geometry did not alter the sweetness of the outfits, but gave them a twinge of toughness.

The frills were still there, rolling around the neck, the bodice and the sides of a short-and-sweet dress. But there was a modern sexiness added to what is usually floral innocence.

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Flowers appeared in unexpected places, such as headpieces. It was all pretty and spirit, but also with a good deal of thought behind it. Giambattista tumbled out so many intriguing thoughts about his show, women, and fashion in general. Here are some of them.‘Giamba’ on the future of fashion shows: “It’s something that is for 400 or 600 privileged people, so I would love someday to be able to give this kind of emotion in another way, sometimes on Instagram or video, but it’s not the same. I think the problem right now is that people are so obsessed by Instagram that they miss the point of making clothes. But what’s most important to me, is that my female clients expect to have beautiful clothes from me. So it’s not only to have that kind of atmosphere that you are a ‘winner’ when you are in the right department store, or you go online and see beautiful things that really shout and you want to buy them.”

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On the Giamba woman: “I look at them, look at their dresses, and the way they choose and they are very independent. They put themselves on the risky side, but they don’t care because it’s part of their nature.”

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On the Spring/Summer 2020 collection: “There is a kind of trellis idea and all this ivory as a canvas for gardeners. All these flowers come from her nomadic side; some more Italian, some more French, some British, a kind of Rajasthani one. There is an ABC of flowers.”

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“Women used to have parasols made from Chantilly lace for the sun in their gardens. I’d love to do something inspired by all these periods. Then there is a kind of relaxed attitude, a pyjama shirt, say, or a knit.”

On the Spring/Summer 2020 techniques: “There is flower embroidery with sequins, and all these flowery volumes; all the colours that you will find on the flowers in each room for our presentation.”

On researching women from the past: “I don’t look at her in a physical way, her aesthetic; I look more in a philosophical way. I love her independence, the freedom to choose what she is like. She was putting herself in a big race, but didn’t care. There was a risk that she would be cut off from her family, but she went back because she was winning with her idea. And she was supporting it.”