‘To understand Valentino, you need to live and breathe this city,’ said Maria Grazia Chiuri from behind her desk in the Valentino Palazzo yesterday morning.
‘It’s our world,’ added her design partner Pierpaolo Piccioli. ‘We wanted to share its effortless beauty with you.’
To that end, the Valentino designers invited 250 journalists to Rome. But before we got to last night’s magnificent Haute Couture collection, which received a standing ovation, the House Of Valentino offered us a specially curated tour of secret Rome. Ten places, chosen by the designers, almost all of them hidden from public view, drew you into their world of inspiration.
‘Roma is a layered city, multi-faceted; you will feel our vision, understand our language,’ promised Piccioli.
And so a group of British journalists set off in the midday sun on a trip that was nothing short of awe-inspiring. From the gardens of the Villa Medici and a secret boudoir where Ferdinando de Medici invited his lovers, to the Depositi Del Teatro Dell’Opera, a working studio where the backdrops for the great Roman operas are painted.
Every venue housed part of a previous couture collection that had been influenced by that place, along with appropriate music and even specially designed scent. For instance, in the Biblioteca Casanatense, a gob-smackingly beautiful ancient library, we heard Fatima Al Qadiri, while the the scent of old paper hung in the air around pieces from the autumn/winter 2014 collection, all richly coloured and lavishly embroidered, reflecting the wood paneling and layered history of the place.
Likewise, deep beneath Rome, a pagan sacrificial temple full of incense housed three blood-red gowns.
So it made sense that the designers’ epic Haute Couture collection in front of 800 guests, held in the piazza outside the Valentino Palazzo, kicked off in somber black to evoke ‘the noir, sinister spirit of Rome’.
As the designers told me, it wasn’t going to be the ‘picture postcard side of Rome’ that we would see: ‘We want you to feel the emotion sewn into the clothes.’ All black, blood red and gold, they were solemn, magical and decadent, laced with symbolism that evoked the city’s multi-sensory history.
The designers’ great talent was to make all that history, of church and state, warring aristocratic families, pagan rituals and ancient art, into modern clothes as graceful as they were breathtakingly crafted. From the opening long filmy dress in silk tulle that took 1,300 hours to make, to the sweeping capes, the drop-dead simple velvet columns, and a golden leather dress resembling that of the most glamorous Roman centurion, it was as pretty much as near to perfection as a Valentino Haute Couture show is ever likely to get.
When the audience rose to their feet – including designers Azzedine Alaia, Alber Elbaz and Valentino Garavani, the label’s namesake, plus a global retinue of the most exquisitely dressed Valentino disciples (such as Tilda Swinton and Gwyneth Paltrow) – it was justifiable praise for the designers’ ‘Mirabilia Romae’ (The Marvels of Rome) and, no, you don’t have to be fluent in Latin or an historian to appreciate each and every piece.