Valentino Spring/Summer 2017 Haute Couture Show

It’s an oft-repeated, slightly annoying fashion-world cliché to say that the purpose of haute couture is “to make women dream,” begging as it does the question of who dares presume to know or direct what women dream about? In practice, it often turns out to be synonymous with elaborate froufrou—only serving to define “a dream” as something that commercially divides the very rich from the rest of us. Pierpaolo Piccioli, flying solo in control of Valentino couture for the first time, spoke about dreaming in a different sense, as fittings were going on at the house. “Dreams make us human; they go down to who each of us are, in ourselves,” he said. That thought had led him back to Greek myths and legends, “because they were the beginning of naming human feelings.”

Those impulses—thinking about dreamscapes and the pure, classical aesthetics of ancient Greek architecture—had a liberating effect on Piccioli’s collection. Where there had previously been precious Renaissance virgin princesses, now there were young goddesses wearing flowing pleated gowns, statuesque floor-length tabards, cloaks, and Greek sandals. It was a change in the silhouette, a shift toward purity and simplicity, and with the long chiffon scarves trailing out behind as the models walked, the dresses were astoundingly beautiful in motion.

Will this new look of Piccioli’s be enough to reset women’s dreams about eveningwear? Highly likely: The shift toward this dignified long silhouette, covered up yet wholly unrestricted, is certain to have a magnetic attraction for grown-ups—and for anyone of any age who rejects the conventions of sexy dressing. Another idea, not so obvious from a distance, is that fluid, wide trousers were slipped under some of the looks. To that extent, anyway, the influence of Valentino and its easy-to-wear silhouette is bound to be a dream-fulfiller for many, when taken up by brands further down the market.

All of that passes the tests of mass influence, relevance, and great timing, but it’s not the ultimate thing that distinguishes and elevates the practice of haute couture to the true dream level. That resides in the uses of technique, and the application of handcrafted skills. On those points, the Roman couture workers at the Valentino ateliers surpassed themselves. Close up, the micro fan-pleating, intricately pieced together from segments of silk and jersey, the microscopically narrow lines of silver bugle beads cascading irregularly from shoulder to floor, the encrustations of three different designs of floral guipure cut-out lace—all this and very much more was just dreamy, in every case. Truth to tell, the show could have taken an edit, a few less of the duplicated silhouettes. But then again, Valentino has so many couture customers, with the Academy Awards and the Met Ball coming up, maybe it just means there’ll be less of a tussle between stylists.

by Sarah Mower

Valentino Spring/Summer 2017 Haute Couture Show