A feel for practicality has suffused the collections as a whole for Autumn/Winter 2010. It's unavoidable. Giambattista Valli is one of those designers whose slant on the clean/serene feeling was always going to be a little bit uncertain. Valli is, after all, a master of cocktail overstatement, frills, feathers, furs - the gilded cage of the Golden Age of couture, indeed.
This collection opened with a gallant stab at daywear that caught a whiff of sixties Cristobal Balenciaga at his most architectural. It was there in cocooning camel coats and capes, a stiff little camel skirt-suit, a black pumpkin of a bolero bomber-jacket in double-face cashmere. It's fair to say that Valli didn't really 'get' the idea of casual, and it'll take more than a pair of comedy coke-bottle specs and some kitten-heels to make this offering look contemporary. When Valli stopped being so self-conscious, there were moments of striking modernity, even minimalism. He tackled the little black dress, inserting stripes of sheer across the midriff, condensing his trademark ruffles to a puckered texture across the surface and cropping high, high above the knee. The simpler, the better - a high-necked, long sleeved baby-doll in silk jersey was almost austere in its stripped-back simplicity, likewise a venture into long chiffon evening gowns with tuxedo jackets thrown over the top. He even managed to make a twisty chiffon frock with white dicky transcend gimmickry. The man can tailor, who knew?
It all got a bit much for Valli towards the end, when he gave into his love of a femininity so saccharine-sweet it makes your back teeth hurt. His bows and bell skirts in bubblegum pink were slightly cloying, and a section of black sequin-embroidered organdie dresses with petalled skirts were just about the right side of off-duty prima ballerina to look realistic. But when Valli went all out with his decorative urge, colouring it in black didn't help: a pair of Charles James rip-off frocks in trussed tulle, shackling the models to the knee and then exploding in a tremblante mass of satin bows - Valli of the Dolls indeed - seemed to transport us back in time to the stuffy couture salons of the fifties. Valli will need to reconsider not only his approach but his idea of what a modern woman wears after eight o'clock if he doesn't want to be similarly left behind.