"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream," wrote Edgar Allen Poe. The same could be said for the angelically angular designs of Giambattista Valli, a fashion house that can transform "a dream into reality."
You cannot help but fall under Valli's elegant spell as the models glide down the frosted floor of the catwalk. Swathed in bouncing capes and billowing trains, with a shimmying chiffon or a flutter of a flouncing feather, the models emulate beautiful, exotic birds about to take flight. If a group of finches is a charm and a group of herons is a siege, the models are a most charming siege indeed.
Looks are accentuated with bows; less Mickey Mouse, more Marie Antoinette. When you google Valli, the word that crops up the most is 'fairytale', but it's never just a girl in a pretty dress. Valli doesn't swallow the fairytale whole though as he loves to "put together opposites and try and find a story between them," and alongside the bows and the high femininity, each look is paired with black, suede, stomping cowboy boots lending the dresses a confident stride. His designs are for no damsel in distress, but rather the iconic women of our time. Both Royalty (Queen Rania of Jordan and Charlotte Casiraghi) and Hollywood royalty (Penelope Cruz, Natalie Portman, Amal Clooney and Gwyneth Paltrow) have been bewitched by his timeless designs, so we're in good company!
Valli has also struck gold by catching the hearts
photographed by EDWIN S FREYER
styled by MARIAN NACHMIA
and wallets of all generations, proudly brandishing his audience as "the youngest haute couture customers all over the world, they're mine!" But how exactly has Valli captured the attention of not only society's elite but Millennials too? In July 2011 he held his first couture presentation and was accepted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale De La Haute Couture, joining the illustrious houses of Christian Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maison Margiela and Schiaparelli to name a few. To stand tall amongst industry stalwarts is an impressive feat mastered through Valli's meticulous attention to design-detail, "I always do the pinning of the flowers or the decoration myself, it's a great meditation moment" as well as his consideration for his ever growing audience.
There's no doubt his audience will double if not triple at the start of November this year due to the launch of his H&M collaboration. Previous collaborations with the high street brand include Isabel Marant, Balmain and Lanvin. While some would argue that pairing a brand synonymous for priceless gowns with the affordable prices of the high street is a bold and risky move, Valli argues that "we sell a dream at the end of the day" so why not share dreams with everyone? And after all, he's really not far off. He debuted part of his H&M collection, titled `Project Love', at the Cannes amfAR Gala in May on a hand-selected few, including the fashion formidable: Kendall Jenner, Chiara Ferragni, Bianca Brandolini, H.E.R., Chris Lee and Ross Lynch, figures who combined have the same number of followers as there are people in Russia!
But he hasn't always been such a celebrant of affluence. Though Valli's formal training, prior to setting up his own brand, was working under Roberto Capucci at Fendi before becoming the Creative Director at Emanuel Ungaro he escaped becoming a "luxury salary guy" when he refused "to design for a famous house that has the initial V. I would have had to put my own house on hold, so I refused. Because, I said to myself, 'I have always dreamed of the day that "V" would stand for Valli."
Valli's own story began in Rome, the classical centre of the world, where he completed a fashion degree at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Rome, before moving to London in 1974 to begin a foundation course in Illustration at Central Saint Martins. His classical roots are never far from his mind when designing collections in Paris today. The emphasis on the corseted waistline and the elevated neckline may be reminiscent of the 16th century but Valli's designs remain modern due to his sleek silhouette and appreciation of the female form, "I have a very tight relationship with the mirror. It's the way you really look at proportion, it tells the truth, and by female form, we mean true female form, not just fashion's distorted view of it."
The proof is in the pudding, as Hollywood's elite fans testify. Actress Diane Kruger mused that "Giambattista loves women and I mean in the real, `no, we don't all fit a size zero' way. His clothes flatter a woman's shape. They make us feel beautiful." Whilst Lena Dunham tweeted, "This massive skirt has created boundaries for me that I'm incapable of creating for myself. Thank you, skirt!" after wearing a collared and tiered, ombre pink gown by Valli. The floodgates to an even wider audience opened after Rihanna wore a voluptuous, popping pink number at the 2015 Grammys and spawned countless memes — a seal of approval from Generation Z! And whilst Valli has one eye firmly on the now, it's not all likes and Social Media dopamine hits, he champions talent over technology any day, "nourishment of creativity is important." Valli is a designer who truly grasps the wants and needs of a woman and how she uses clothes as an expression of herself. "When I'm dressing an individual client, what interests me most is her, the unique way she crosses her legs, moves her hands. My job is to help her express her special charm, her identity. A bit like a psychiatrist. That's why I wear black. I want to be as inconspicuous as possible, like a shadow, because the point of light — of fire — should be the woman." Perhaps it was his grandmother, the first female engineer in Italy, who equipped him with his profound sense of respect for women. His self-deprecation in a fashion world dominated by the male ego is refreshing, "I do 50% of the job, the other half is the interpretation of my creation by the right woman. Because in the end, what is a dress without a woman? An empty house!"
Battista directly translates from Italian to English as baptist. Valli is arguably haute couture's saving grace, baptizing the future generation with lessons in style and an appreciation for the past from his atelier in Paris's 'Golden Triangle' of historical Maisons. His designs transcend trends and time, "I want it to be the past and at the same time the future!"
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