“Extraordinary women—Talitha Getty and Peggy Guggenheim!” said Giambattista Valli as an aside, while Jessica Alba, just one of the exquisitely dressed throng of friends, pressed backstage to congratulate him with kisses on his show. Behind him were four girls wearing ball skirts of such rippling immensity that when one of them sat down, she looked as if she was afloat in a sizable orange pool of chiffon. Valli is a designer who revels in the spectacle of a grand finale, ultra-exaggerated volumes, vivid color, delicate florals, and airy flounces. His ode to eccentric, flamboyant women, the ninth in his series of couture collections, as it wended its way across an acre of custom-made black-and-white striped carpet, was an uplifting thing to watch.
Haute couture is a place where designers have a license to fantasize and push their craft—and the expertise of the people who work for them—as far as it can go. Valli does that all the way. The basic shapes he worked on were tunics and pants on the one hand, and voluminous skirts and dresses on the other, both of them elaborated to extraordinary degrees. At the beginning the pantsuits came embedded with 3-D pom-poms of organza, and then decorated blocks of varying embroideries of flowers, sixties grid patterns, and Swarovski crystals. A bright emerald lace version, with boot-cut pants, glittered. Huge black circular sunglasses, each lens studded with a large faceted crystal, chicly reflected the spirit of Peggy Guggenheim.
The voluminous skirts and dresses may have grown out of Valli’s thinking about Talitha Getty’s famous hippie garb, but they ended up at the extreme opposite of peasant-y. He let his imagination fly, cutting deeply flounced, vaguely eighteenth-century taffeta ball gowns; one prettily sprigged and shown over narrow pants. Nevertheless, descriptions that try to capture Valli’s techniques can be misleading, if, that is, they suggest pure fantasia. The remarkable thing about his talent is that Valli’s clothes are actually just as much about reality; the reality that dozens of customers flock to him to order these clothes. For his fan group, he is a playful, dramatic life-enhancer, and very much loved because of it.