Given the agonies that a fashion house can go through as it transitions through the years after the departure of its founding designer, the success of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli at the house of Valentino is a reason to be cheerful. Everyone hopes that the snafu chez Jil Sander and YSL can be notched up to experience and filed under 'aberration'. And there is proof, somewhere in the daily workings of the 47 year old Roman couture house that there is a way to move a monolitic and much loved label on and somehow the Valentino team have managed to find it.
It is due in no small part to the skill of the two designers to identify the next generation of Valentino customer and woo her with a wonderful wardrobe, short on gimic, long on understated and perfectly feminine luxury.
Where Valentino front rows would have had Farah Diba, Jacqueline De Ribes, Caroline of Monaco and Rosaria of Bulgaria, there is now Natalia Vodionova, Shala Monroque and Alicia Keys. The clothes are less about the limousine lifestyle but every bit as priveleged. It's just that the new Valentino acknowledges that a modern woman likes to get about under her own steam at times, regardless of what her mother might have thought about that. So evening dresses are frequently ballerina length (ie on the ankle) and often worn with flat or mid heeled shoe. And a simple slim trouser over an ankle strap shoe worn with an embroidered jacket will give those grand gowns a run for their money in the evening.
This season the collection was lightly focused (for who wants a themed wardrobe?) on the romantic Russian peasant. And if poverty looked anything like that I'd happily hand over all my worldly goods right now. Instead, I'll be saving up for the fitted collarless coats with braided and embroidered bodices, the full skirted evening dress with scaloped neckline and hem and the A line jackets over ankle cropped skinny pants.
The romance comes into it with a revival of homespun crafts such as needlepoint and tapestry, tatting and lace making, worked by experts that understand not only luxury but also the charm of the hand made.
In addition, Maria Grazia and Pier Paolo take Valentino signatures such as his iconic red, or his undulating frill, or his neat little skirt suits, his love of head to toe white and nudge them on, working them into the latest collections at every turn referencing the house's heritage. But in 2012 the grandest evening wear gets skirts with pockets. The smartest tailoring is stripped of fancy fuss. It's all perfectly Valentino. And it's also perfectly now.
by Paula Reed in Paris