A capital letter V is recognised by many cultures as the sign of victory, but in the dictionary of haute couture, it means Valentino; the sum of thousands of stylish designs forged in time. Somerset House is now showing “Valentino: Master of Couture”, a retrospective exhibition that focuses on haute couture created by the legendary designer over his fifty year career, and I thought I would pay a visit.

As soon as I step in, I find a collection of catwalk invitations and press folders that showcase the evolution of the branding printed in different fine end papers. The colour palette goes from warm colours to “Valentino red”, which is his unique sign of identification. Unseen personal photographs, sketches and images from Valentino’s at work complete a section that presents his more intimate portrait.

Walking into the exhibition, I am invited to attend to a very personal catwalk, where I am the model, while perfectly dressed mannequins observe me from the front and second rows. Some seats are left bare, waiting to be taken by famous actresses and models who will become my awaiting audience. The first eye contact leaves my mind in a state of awe and it is only after a few seconds, when I wake up, that I start contemplating the astonishing craftsmanship; a six-metre runway full of evening gowns, dresses, trousers, suits, minis, capes and kaftans that take me on a travel in time, from the 1950s to today. One thing captures my attention: no bloggers invited to the front row.

Looking at the designs, I wonder about the memories that must be embedded behind the seams of each design. “Each of these designs have a beautiful story”, Valentino says. “The atelier crafted each so diligently by hand, taking hours, sometimes days to complete. The details are incredibly intricate, though outside the runway shows and events, the dresses have rarely been seen, so to be able to showcase these designs at Somerset House” where they can be seen in great detail by the public is very unique.”

To name but a few, a red taffeta dress with remboursé train detail, worn by actress Anne Hathaway to the Oscar’s ceremony in 2011, a white ecru georgette evening dress with lace appliqué detailing, worn by Jacqueline Kennedy for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis, or a cream organza evening ensemble with flower detailing worn by Audrey Hepburn.

Descending the stairs from the catwalk, I immerse myself into a red velvet room with a huge screen in the middle, where I can enjoy the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum, which allows visitors to explore his legacy though interactive and multimedia content. In an intimate interview, we can feel him closer, talking directly to the visitors while delving into the work behind a hand crafted precious stone dress worn by a smiley Natalia Vodinova. A comment from his long-time partner, Giancarlo Giammetti captures my attention when explaining the origins of the brand; they established their work on the highest levels of haute couture and from that, they descend to create the band, a “V” that is now worth millions.

Moments later I find myself in the middle of his atelier, learning in detail the artistry of couture techniques that go into making a Valentino gown though a series of specially made films.

Leaving the exhibition I feel like I am part of it, I just want to try all the dresses and feel like a princess for one day…see you at Velentino’s.

By Laura Roig Vericat

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