It’s that time of year again: London is slowly being invaded by a heard of fashionistas from all over the world, and starts to look like the set of The Devil Wears Prada a little more than usual.
Having to walk past Somerset House, where a vast majority of the fashion shows are held, every single day on my way to university, not being able to get past security to where the magic happens can become a little frustrating. For us mere mortals who do not own a London Fashion Week badge, the only way to take in a little of the glamour typical of the catwalks is the exhibition Valentino: Master Of Couture. Held in Somerset House’s South Wing, it can be accessed by the building’s embankment entrance even when the Strand one is being monopolised by models and press.
Spread over two floors in three different rooms, the exhibition is a tribute to the legendary Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani. Arrived in Paris from Italy in 1950, he quickly established himself as one of the most important figures in the fashion world: the still famous House of Valentino opened in Rome in 1958 and from then on he worked with the most famous and glamorous women of the jet set. The timeline on the walls in the first room narrates the highlights of his career: from 1961, when Elizabeth Taylor wore one of his dresses for the premiere of Spartacus, to 2012, when he was commissioned by the New York City Ballet to design the costumes for the autumn Gala Ballet, passing through 1968, when Jacky Kennedy wore a Valentino to marry Aristotle Onassis, all his exploits are there.
…display cases that contain everything from invitations cards for his fashion shows to letters and notes written by people such as Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep and Donatella Versace…
In the same room, white sophisticated chairs elevated from the ground hold display cases that contain everything from invitations cards for his fashion shows to letters and notes written by people such as Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep and Donatella Versace, as well as press cuttings from important publications including Vogue Italy and Vanity Fair, and old photographs of him and of actors and models wearing his designs. The most interesting part of the first section of the exhibition is without a doubt the showcasing of some of his couture sketches: ranging from the 1960s to 2008, with notes scribbled in Italian next to the drawings, they give an interesting insight into the backstage of his collections and perfectly introduce the second part of the exhibition.
One floor up you are transported into another world, where more than a hundred mannequins are wearing some of his most famous clothes. Standing or sitting in the middle of white catwalk chairs with names of models, actresses and princesses in the front row, the designs go all the way back to the 1950s and are divided by style instead of being displayed in chronological order. Since the arrangement can be a little confusing, a programme is provided to help the visitor navigate the long room where dresses worn by the likes of Julia Roberts, Jacky Kennedy and Anne Hathaway are showcased. Personal favourites obviously include all the Valentino red dresses, although there were not as many as one would expect, and an incredibly beautiful dress created as a tribute to Mexican actress Maria Felix: made of white rebrodé lace and pink chiffon drape detailing, it is the perfect representation of the glamour that has always accompanied the style of the Italian designer.
…the king of fashion…
Dubbed by the press the king of fashion in 1968, it could at first seem impossible to believe that he can still be described in the same way more than forty years later. After seeing the exhibition however, you perfectly understand why.
The exhibition continues until 3 March.
Admission fee: £12 ; £9