Giambattista Valli is a man you always feel would be most at home showing in the gilded enclaves of a French apartment, right? Wrong: for S/S 2011 Valli stepped into the light, parading his clothes inside a light installation that was part Dan Flavin, part Lights Alive. For next season, Valli decided to go futuristic.
Then again, was it really futuristic? True those spare shapes and sparse (read: non-existent) decorative features are our accepted aesthetic markers of fashion yet to come, but Valli's interpretation felt slightly future-retro, riffing on that sixties sci-fi theme yet again in a Kubrick palette of white, moon-crater grey and tomato-orange. The egg-shaped backs of his outerwear had a feeling of Balenciaga, a trick he's been pulling for a while, but these were chopped bolero short and inset with mirror squares, which also showed up as trims on flat sandals and as necklaces. Elsewhere, it felt as if Valli was trying to give a modern, Minimal twist to his old-school love of decoration. Embroidery was bleached white, or rendered as a painted design on short silk shifts, the straight up-and-down shape of choice for his day dresses.
It was all very on-trend - there was even a flash of that sly leopard that has been creeping through a few shows in Paris. But at the same time, it felt as if Valli was restraining himself from what he really wanted to do, and instead plumping for what he thought everyone else wanted him to do. There was a definite eye on the bottom line in those printed silk dresses and simple colour-blocking - after all, that embroidery hikes up the retail on his frothy little frocks, and who's going to buy rococo arabesques when Minimalism is the thing? Oddly, they were amongst the most beautiful pieces, the whitework embroidery exquisitely executed and subtly decorative, just what women come to Valli for.
At the end, all that restraint proved too much for Valli's maximalist heart and he binged, cramming fabric flowers, feathers and drapery onto floor-length frocks that hampered the models' every movement. How they related to anything beforehand was a mystery, but you could tell Valli loved them, so we can forgive him. What we can't forgive, however was a couple of softly-draped columns in saffron - they were gorgeous, but so subtle they simply got lost amidst the herbaceous havoc.