The challenge at Valentino is obvious: how to make a house legendary for dressing ladies who lunch in the style to which they rapidly became accustomed relevant for the twenty-first century? Add to that already hefty load the fact that Valentino's original client base is slowly but surely dying out, and the fact the man himself is very much not, and you have the difficulty of the task Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri are currently grappling with.
Well, grappling is perhaps the wrong word. After a slightly shaky start, the Valentino duo seems to be increasingly adept at walking that tricky tightrope between old and new, young and old, reverence and rehash. They never forget the label's history, but they're thinking about the future. With that in mind, next season, the Valentino woman will be wearing ruffles. Well, she's always worn ruffles, but these are some of the loveliest in recent memory, controlled and tight on short sixties-influenced shirt-dresses, flouncing the hem of a point d'esprit organza gown, or buoying into a sleeve on a weightless tulle dance frock. Here's the neat thing: that tulle also segues in with what many other designers are doing for next season, only better. Ditto their long dresses, sometimes a touch shorter in front - we're talking a couture hair's breadth, but in these frocks that's the different between stand-out and face-first on the red carpet.
Piccioli and Chiuri also toughened their look up, sharpening the edges on compact little frocks and adding cageworks of leather around seams and at the waist that felt new, but not too edgy. The palette was classic Valentino, all cinnamon and cocoa, with a delicious shot of hot pink and red at the end that read as sublimely confident - just like the flat ballet pumps they once again teamed with floor-grazing evening dresses. It's a trick they used last season, but it still had impact.
Maybe Piccioli and Chiuri are striking it lucky, spinning out these Valentino signatures in especially sympathetic seasons, but somehow it seems more than sheer luck that they're pulling such polished, refined clothes out of the bag. And some of it was purely Valentino - we've hardly seen any lace at all this season, but here it looked fantastic chopped into those slightly high-waisted shifts, worn with youthful Heidi plaits swinging down the model's backs. Those were maybe a bit too young - a glance at the front row could tell you that much - but they had energy, like the rest of this collection, and that's what counts. This house seems as if it's onto something, and that something could just be a winning streak.