Long before a well-known French shoe designer immortalized women’s feet with red soles, the red Valentino dress had deified the women who wore them for several decades.
Renowned couture designer Valentino Garavani practically had “red” named after him. “Valentino Red” is a source of reference among those in the know. According to the designer, the inspiration came to him when he was 18 at a Barcelona theater. The opera was La Traviata and everything he saw was red, from the theater’s interior to the flowers to the dresses. He decided it would be his signature color.
For roughly five decades, Valentino has been creating some of the world’s most exquisite clothes. A serious wardrobe, the likes of which women such as Jackie Onassis or Elizabeth Taylor possessed, always has one of his dresses among the heap. All the most glamorous celebrities, socialites, and grande dames have worn him. He is up there among the greats with Dior, Saint Laurent, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Schiaparelli.
Four years ago the Italian designer announced his retirement. His company had already been sold for almost a billion dollars. But his work continues online. Garavani and his longtime collaborator Giancarlo Giammetti launched the Valentino Virtual Museum late last year. While the concept might not mean much for people who don’t care about clothes or for whom women’s fashion holds little meaning, Valentino’s Virtual Museum is as worthy of admiration as any other exhibition room. It is the first of its kind, and like Valentino himself, rather exceptional.
Unlike a traditional museum, the VVM is not a traveling exhibit or a museum one must travel to visit or queue up to buy a ticket. The VVM is an easily downloadable show with free access for all. The museum has the added benefit of feeling like a private tour where one can languish on any piece uninterrupted. Valentino’s Virtual Museum provides a sweeping glimpse not only into the designer’s style and his most innovative achievements, but more importantly into the evolution of style between the 1960s and the 21st century.
Much like a film can be placed in time by its visual feel, so too can fashion, providing a winsome record of the world at large. In the 60s, we see the greater political outlook reflected in bohemian blouses and floral patterns. The 80s, with big shoulders and garish colors, evoked the revival of laissez-faire capitalism and political grandstanding. According to Garavani, fashion reflects the time in which we live. He says “it must also, like a movie or music, inspire and make people dream.” The museum is in this sense not only a source of inspiration but a visual tool for studying fashion and the last half-century’s social events. In a British Vogue article, Valentino refers to his museum’s concept as “future memory”—a glimpse of the past in an ultramodern medium. He says it is a way to “review the fashion that has shaped our lives.”
Fashion and clothing are often considered superficially extravagant, but we all know the value of appearances. We live in a time when slobs are far too prevalent. The great hordes’ overall lack of finesse can be jarring. It is an unfortunate time for appearances, which is a shame because as Valentino points out, “today ready-to-wear has achieved a quality and sophistication that once belonged just to couture.” He says the only thing he would change about high street fashion would be to make things simpler: “Less va-va-voom…and more like an old American way to dress, a shirt…jeans…flat shoes.” If only more people took their cues from Mr. Valentino.
Valentino says he is most proud of the style and identity he created. Giammetti, ever the businessman, looks to the present. He is most pleased that retirement can include projects such as this museum.
Garavani and Giammetti live privileged lives surrounded by exceptional beauty. Their houses in Italy, France, England, and Switzerland betray the fact that they are true aesthetes. While it might be easy to envy the grandeur with which Valentino and Giammetti are surrounded, they deserve it more than anything because they earned it. Valentino has been a true creator of beauty, which is its own reward. Unlike some modern designers, Valentino has always behaved like a gentleman of the old school. Aspiring designers and creative individuals starting out will do well to take inspiration from Garavani and Giammetti.
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