Guests arriving at Giambattista Valli’s show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris had diamonds on the soles of their shoes: The carpet was strewn with pounds of glittering Swarovski crystals that crunched underfoot. “Paris by night,” the designer said backstage. “It’s the feeling of lightness.”
That’s been in short supply this season, as couture houses struggled to complete their collections amid ongoing protests by the gilets jaunes movement, which delayed deliveries and blocked access to studios and workshops.
“I haven’t slept in two days because, like everyone, we were delayed by the gilets jaunes. It was a catastrophe,” Valli said. In fact, dresses were still being finished at the last minute, meaning the show started almost an hour late.
So what to do when life gives you lemons? Make lemonade, naturellement. “Today, France is being torn apart culturally and socially. I thought it was important to remind myself why I came here, and what makes it an extraordinary country,” the Italian designer explained.
Hence his deep dive into the essence of Paris couture, with a show that featured his signature extravagant trains, but also touched upon Asian culture and a louche sensuality that is oh-so-Parisienne. The starting point was a 1977 Helmut Newton photograph of models lounging in the couture salon of Yves Saint Laurent.
“It’s an atmosphere you only find in French haute couture houses — this eclecticism, this lively silhouette, these uninhibited women with their slightly brazen attitude, this mix of cultures,” Valli said.
He opened with a series of short, sexy cocktail outfits that fell in two camps: tight crystal-embellished tops and miniskirts, or graphic black and white dresses with demonstrative balloon sleeves or oversize bow details.
Fez hats nodded to Saint Laurent, as did a duo of draped gowns trimmed with ostrich feathers — the black version revealing the model’s breasts, like the sheer blouses the late couturier showed in 1968 at the height of the sexual revolution.
The trains came in a variety of guises — from flamenco ruffles on a scarlet frilled taffeta dress to a parachute train on a white silk faille baby doll. Then there were the tulle explosions, similar to the giant hot pink creation that Jennifer Lopez wore to the New York premiere of her movie “Second Act” last month.
Kate Beckinsale, no stranger to a red carpet statement herself, lapped it all up from the front row. “I’m definitely game,” she said of the maxi-train stunners. As Valli emerged wearing sunglasses — presumably to hide the dark rings under his eyes — one thing was certain: couture may be bruised, but it’s yet to be beaten.