Zoom in, and keep zooming in, and there you’ll find the reason Valentino haute couture is such a rare and exceptional entity. Look at the tiny, wiggly rouleaux edgings on the upturned collars. Inspect the faded red cross-stitching and the heart-shaped patches of suede appliqué on the peasant smocks. Look at the leather-covered beads clustered on the shearling-lined vests. Then imagine what mastery went into creating the dress, somewhere near the end, with the palest gray clouds floating across its skirts, each of them outlined in tiny hand-sewn sparkles. Nowhere in the world can this work be done other than in Rome.
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli weren’t talking about all that fairy-fingered delicacy after the show, however. They were far more interested in discussing the emotional, cultural sources they’d fused together to arrive at this imagery: primarily an exhibition of the work of Marc Chagall, which the designers saw in Milan, mixed up with the love poetry of Renaissance Italy. The point about Chagall was that he was a painter possessed of an almost mystical tenderness. He was also Jewish, an immigrant from Russia to France, who kept painting pictures of his long-lost village home life, peasant blouses and big, tiered dresses included. For the Valentino couple, the collection was also about “the power of love,” a reconciling human emotion in our dark times. Over and over again, it magicked glorious one-off beauties into beings nobody else could possibly produce.