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Monday, January 21, 2013

Exhibition Review: Valentino ’Master of Couture’ at Somerset House

Last week we finally made it to the Valentino exhibition at Somerset House braving the searing cold wind blowing in from the Thames as we crossed the courtyard.

This glamorous retrospective was created by Somerset House to celebrate Valentino Garavani’s 50 years of being in the haute couture business, and as you walk in and see the timeline’s mounted on the walls, you really get a sense of Valentino’s tremendous output having clothed so many ‘glitterati’ during the last 5 decades.
Valentino with models 2007 c Lorenzo Agius
The first section features large glass cabinets mounted on rows of Louis XV style chairs, such as those used during couture presentations – a simple but imaginative display tool. The cabinets house a selection of invitations to the Valentino couture shows, press cuttings, numerous thank you letters from his celebrity and Royal clientele, and also some original sketches.

The upstairs gallery housed the 130 pieces on show and formed a dramatic entrance. The Valentino clad mannequins seem to be arranged in day wear or evening wear clusters either side of a long 60m carpeted corridor which runs the length of the gallery thus giving them the appearance, that they are the audience and you, the visitor, are the model walking down the catwalk of a fashion show.

The clothes were interspersed with chairs reserved for luminaries such as “Audrey Hepburn” "Gisele", "Iman", and “Julia Roberts". The mannequins had numbers on the wrists and were grouped together by colour – each colour representing a decade from the 1950s onwards.

The brochure is essential to identify the pieces (hence the numbers), and to see if the garment was worn by anyone famous, as there isn’t any interpretation information within this section of the exhibition.

Back downstairs to the lower gallery in the third room there was a show piece wedding designed and worn by Princess Marie Chantal of Greece. A spectacular pearl-encrusted ivory silk wedding gown with a four and a half metre train and 12 kinds of lace, made in 1995 by 25 of Valentino's seamstresses.

The last room was particularly interesting for me. Large glass cabinets housed samples of fabric giving a close up view of some of the different sewing techniques used in the garments – some of which are exclusive to Valentino’s atelier. This included Drappeggio: chiffon and silk draped on the bias, Nervature: double seamed organza silk with line detailing and Budellini: double charmeuse silk rolled and sewn around lopped wool strands. A useful glossary of all the techniques is at the back of the brochure. There are also videos running of ’ Le Regazze’ (the girls) at work in the studio stitching these techniques.

As you’d expect the evening wear is the strongest part of the exhibition. Valentino’s collections could not be classed as cutting edge and he’s never particularly followed fashion, however his timeless couture creations, epitomise glamour and high-end craftsmanship. This is why year after year celebrities flock to him to for their red carpet fix.

My 5 favourites – a hard task but here goes...

  • #31 A/W90/91 Autumnal coloured chiffon evening dress with drappeggio detailing
  • #51 S/S1993 White chiffon evening gown with budellini detailing
  • #52 S/S 2003 White charmeuse evening dress
  • #64 A/W 92/93 Black velvet and tulle evening dress (as worn by Julia Roberts at the 2011 Oscars)
  • #69 A/W 92/93 Black velvet and satin evening dress

I really enjoyed this exhibition and would recommend  a visit to anyone with an interest in couture and craftsmanship. If I have any criticisms, it would be the lack of information on display within the garment part of the exhibition, it was a bit irritating to have to keep referring to the brochure - and I would have loved to have seen images of clients wearing the clothes alongside the mannequins.

Do let me know which were your favourite dresses!

By Alison Lewy

Running until 3 March, 10am-6pm daily.
Late night openings Thursdays until 9pm.
Admission £12.50, Concessions, £9.00


  1. This is so worth going to see. This video from Crane TV is on the behind the scenes at somerset house. http://blip.tv/cranetv/valentino-master-of-couture-part-one-6429985


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