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Review: Valentino: Master of Couture

What better way than to warm up the soul in this bitter weather, than to take a peek into the elegant world of Italian couture and one of fashion’s most celebrated designers. I’m talking about the Valentino: Master of Couture exhibition which was specially designed for Somerset House and celebrates the life and work of Valentino. Blown away from the moment I walked into the exhibition by the captivating and elegant installation, visitors are met by a private view of Valentino’s personal world through photographs and letters from his archive, which were carefully displayed in glass cabinets on beautiful cream chairs. Being allowed a glimpse into Valentino’s personal archive, made the work of this visionary seem just that little bit more real. The one thing which really stood out for me throughout the exhibition was how elegantly everything was displayed and the attention to detail, both in the installation and in Valentino’s extraordinary designs.

After the exploration of  Valentino’s personal archive came the catwalk of the haute couture: 130 mesmerising designs which were sectioned into similar colours. With Valentino being synonymous for the striking red, I kept having to go back to look at the red dresses and found it rather difficult to move on. I simply wanted to stare at them forever.

The designs which really stood out to me were: a 1959 red evening dress which had a rose couture technique; a black velvet evening gown from 1992 which had striking white ribbon detailing; and a 1997 emerald green feather, lace and satin gown which had a gorgeous petticoat. There was also a delightful 1995 white gown with waterfall detailing at the back, and a nude evening gown with velvet flowers, which had finely pleated sleeves that were so delicate they almost looked dreamlike. With 130 designs to ogle at, these were just a few which have really stuck in my mind. One thing I learnt from the exhibition is that Valentino focuses on the back of the designs just as much as the front; the back of the dresses were a statement in themselves.

The final section of the exhibition took the visitor through the process of crafting couture, showing a group of films which presented behind the scenes access to the Valentino atelier. I would recommend this exhibition to anyone with even the slightest fascination of the world of couture, as it was very well displayed and very varied, containing plenty of elegance. I went with high expectations and came out with high praises.

Valentino: Master of Couture is exhibited at Somerset House, London (November 29 2012 -March 3 2013)

- Natalie Atterbury

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