It’s one of the earliest joys for the innate fashion lover. Rummaging through a box of tiny clothes, your favourite doll in hand. Laying out all her best micro-couture in colour-coded precision before carefully choosing the most decadent piece to style her. Perhaps it would be the feathered, layered taffeta skirt with its rough Velcro fastening. Or maybe it would be the sparkling dress with its Peter Pan collar and weathered bedazzled sleeves. Or perhaps it would be the like-velvet black ballgown with the dramatic dropped shoulders. Whichever, they would all be styled back with the high heels, the chintzy jewels and the shiny handbags, each always hidden in the corner of the box.
Over time this memory becomes a vignette, kept safe within our happiest nostalgia. Then, every so often, say every Haute Couture season, it is breathed into reality. For Giambattista Valli, this is a long-held aesthetic. The Italian designer has become a kind of unofficial Fairy Godfather of Haute Couture with his signature ability to conjure and create a proverbial full-scale Cinderella dream.
For Spring 24, shown yesterday in Paris, Valli presented perhaps his most Heavenly rainbow of macro-couture yet. One after the other, a gelateria of extraordinary, draped gowns in blush pinks, sea-foam greens, lipstick reds and ice blues vied for the role of dream-girl-dress. They formed a cascade of 1940s cinematic costumery. Looks that revived Vivien Leigh’s curtain gown with the bow-embellished bishop sleeves, Joan Crawford’s famous ‘Letty Lynton’ layered white tulle showstopper, Ava Gardner’s sweetheart corsetry and Hedy Lamarr’s glittering diaphanous overlay dresses – each taking a Valli-turn for major main character energy.
Aside from the dreamscape each piece was a masterclass in tailoring. Reams of Christian Lacroix-style gathered silk were cinched with tiered balloon hems and some fastened with giant rosette bows forming pillowy shoulder epaulettes. Then monochromatic two-piece sets in both ball and fishtail skirts were fitted with varying degrees of knotted and wrapped silk blouses each creating the most divine of femme fatale silhouette. Shrugs, dresses and figure-forming coats were wildly embellished with whimsy feathers while traditional brocade covered bolero jackets and Deco-florals embroidered onto sheer baby pink gowns reminded us we’re witnessing the finesse of ateliers unsurpassed in their industry.
This collection is so fabulously decadent and theatrical it should probably costume the next big avant-garde nostalgic cinema piece, rather than dress the red carpet for its premiere premiere. Celebrity stylists are, however, undoubtedly already ready to swoop for their clients, after all, dressing up for a premiere or event is the grown-up version of those bygone Barbie days. Being so blessed as to spend an evening swathed in a gown so unabashedly glamorous you might settle for turning into a pumpkin at midnight…and be equally happy to wrestle with the Velcro at the back.