Last week I visited the Valentino: Master of Couture exhibition at Somerset House (half price ticket offer available on Groupon if anyone is interested!). I really enjoyed the visit and was overall impressed with the way such a large quantity and variety of garments were displayed. The first part of the exhibition was about Valentino's career and included many artefacts from throughout his life. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to see some of his sketches from the 1960s/70s in this section.
The main bulk of the exhibition is in one long room and is were almost all the garments are on show. There is a lovely neutral tone to the whole exhibition space which I think worked to make the dresses the feature of the room (although it would be hard to detract from them!) and also to give the whole room a feeling of elegance and glamour. I really enjoyed the fact that there was a range of dressing spanning the whole of his long career and that the diversity of his designs was really clear to see from the items chosen. I half expected the exhibits to be displayed in chronological order but they were in fact mixed up and grouped more randomly by colour and style which worked really well in my opinion. Valentino's work has been so varied throughout his entire career it could have been too much of a mishmash in date order! To give you a good a quick indication of the date of each gown the mannequins are colour coded by decade; excellent idea! The curators also used a technique which I have not encountered before to provide attendees with written information about each garment. Each mannequin wore a disk on their wrist with a number which corresponded with a description in the exhibition guide book which is handed out free on arrival. I thought this was BRILLIANT as when exhibitions are quite busy (which this was) it sometimes can be difficult to pause long enough at a point where you can read a placard next to a display. However, as it was so easy to read up on each dress I would have liked a bit more information on each one. The write ups were basically just a visual description of each garment with a date, although some did describe particular techniques used and a couple included who wore them.
I loved the design of having the dresses exhibited as if members of the audience at a catwalk show, with the walkway for the viewers as the central catwalk. It gave the visit a real sense of occasion and I liked the idea of the garments being shown in the environment they originally would have been seen. The hand written name labels on the empty chairs with names of fashion icons and celebrities who have worn Valentino was also a lovely touch.
I did however wish it was possible to see more of the garments. It's difficult to achieve but I always go to fashion and costume exhibitions and wish I could see the back or sides of the dress (as well as the inside construction details but I think I might have to keep dreaming on that one!). The mannequins (which it has to be said didn't always fit the dress particularly well) were arranged in a variety of poses so some of the dresses you could see the back or side of, but then you couldn't see the front. These dresses are so unbelievable you want to see every inch of them because it is clear that careful thought has gone into the design of every inch of every item.
|Credit: stylesight blog|
This is the main thing that I picked up on during my visit, that I think Valentino's couture style can be described as using and designing every single part of the item. Every neckline, hem, sleeve incorporates and new and unique style or technique. The dart placement, hem length and shape, fastening, decoration, colour - every element of every single dress in that exhibition was completely different from the next. Plus I decided that he REALLY can design a back! The backs of the dresses that you could see were beautifully creative in their construction and decoration, which I think serves to prove his design of every inch further as this is so often a neglected part of design.
This dress in particular grabbed my attention as being beautifully and cleverly designed. I thought of it as a modern twist on a Tudor period dress (funny that it caught the costume girl's attention hey?!) The fabric has a really period feel which I think works beautifully with the style of the fitted bodice and underskirt visible through the open centre front panel of the overskirt which was a popular design feature during this time and also throughout the 18th century. The addition of the sable fur around the armholes is also a genius touch and nod to period details. The unusual neckline, wide decorative and sleeveless design bring it completely up to date in fashion as an evening gown though.
As they were all couture dresses I didn't find a lot of the dresses inspired my own sewing in terms of copying techniques or design (slightly too advanced for me perhaps!) but there were a few things which caught my attention and got the creative juices flowing. In particular there was a very wearable simple cream wool shift dress which had three tiers with a scalloped edge to each tier and the hem. I've seen tutorials online about how to create a scalloped edge and after seeing this dress I may well experiment with this style in future.
|Credit: Style.com & Getty|