Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Hardly names that roll off the tongue. But they are the twosome credited with taking that behemoth of elegance Valentino into the twenty-first century. This season, they elected to do it with ivory radzimir, beaded lace, studded kitten heels and lots and lots of ruffles. Not so surprising, given the aesthetic legacy of Val's Gals. The surprising thing was, it worked very well indeed.
The gist of this collection was, once again, clean and mean - but unlike so many half-hearted attempts, Piccioli and Chiuri made real attempts to marry this new mood of austerity with the seemingly antithetical Valentino tradition of frothy feminine decoration. It was there in the first exit, a sleek ivory sweater and tiered silk skirt with serrated edges, pulled close to the body but with enough surface detail to keep Valentino clients interested. Daywear was comprised of more of the same, subtle plays on ivory suiting with sculptural ruffles folding into a skirt or framing a face, sometimes combined with a lace-pieced blouse for interest over the luncheon table. Beige cotton trenches pirouetted with ruffles and blossoming with pinwheel self-fabric flowers took that trend for fabric manipulation a step too far, but they were perhaps a necessary step for the Valentino team to make - besides which, the Sheik of Chic's heart has never really been in these kind of ostensibly practical outerwear piece.
In true Valentino fashion, it was after dark when the magic really happened, with sleek, simple floor-length gowns trembling with undulating waterfall ruffles in ever-so-subtle chiffon hues of watermelon, peach and sea-green. These lacy, beaded throwbacks to a golden age of girdled, red-lipsticked femininity shouldn't have worked - especially now. But worn with flat sandals and treated with a light and deft hand, they looked utterly exquisite. Delicacy isn't something we've seen very much of - this being an Autumn/Winter season, and showcased in a Parisian springtime that calls less for stripy maletots and more for hardy tweeds and knuckle-deep fur to boot. But the delicacy, and moreso unabashed, unashamed prettiness (when did you last hear that word used non-pejoratively in fashion?) of these numbers was enough to silence the nay-sayers. And besides, the Valentino customer these dresses appeal endlessly to is hardly likely to shiver under the glare of a thousand red carpet flashbulbs, is she?