Interview by David Pedroza
By David Pedroza, Editor in Chief/ Writer
Art Direction, and Sit-in-Editor, Wilson McCord
Photo by Wilson McCord
Haute Couture is a rarified and private world. To be part of it is a privilege, and the title is bestowed to only a few houses that exemplify the qualifications of this rare tradition. Myself and our Sit-in-Editor, Wilson McCord had the honor of visiting one house that undoubtedly, represents the true art of Haute Couture, Valentino. Situated in Place Vendom, is the home of Valentino Haute Couture showroom, where collections are completed before the couture shows, and clients are welcomed to view the collections. Last November, we were warmly welcomed by Katia Smirnoff, Directrice of Valentino Haute Couture. Madame Smirnoff is an elegant and chic woman who represents the house and works directly with every client who wishes to buy Valentino couture. The showroom was being renovated for the first time in about ten years at the time, with large, hand-poured glass windows. It is an impressive and regal space, suitable for Valentino’s Collection and his clients. Madam Smirnoff introduced us to the senior designer, Antonio Trotto, who works very closely with Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, whom were appointed Creative Directors of Maison Valentino in 2008. Both, Madame Smirnoff and Mr. Trotto sat with us, in the Valentino showroom, and shared with us the private world of Valentino.
Valentino Garavani opened his house in Rome, in 1959. In 2008 he retired, leaving a legacy that will continue for generations to come. The houses’ legacy is in the haute couture, the coveted craft that Valentino has been able to harness and master. He became the first Roman couturier to have the official title of Haute Couture, which is only granted by Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, in Paris. The Haute couture HQ showroom is in Paris, to honor a tradition of the Syndicale, but the ateliers and studios of Masion Valentino are based in Rome. Madame Smirnoff indicated that all Valentino Couture pieces are designed and made entirely by hand in Rome. Every fitting, stitch, and finish is done in Rome with the exception of Embroideries. Masion Valentino keeps in tie with the tradition of using local Parisian ateliers that specialize in a certain craft, and contracts firms such as Lesage and Hurel, that specialize in embroidery. Traced garment sections are sent to these Paris firms to be embroidered, then returned to Rome to assemble each piece into its’ respective “model” or design. All fabrics used for each collection is secured and made exclusively for Maison Valentino by different fabric mills in Italy and France that create the most beautiful luxury textiles. All designs start with a sketch, and then a toile or model of the garment is made up in cotton to perfect the cut and silhouette of the design. Those designs that are strapless and require a foundation are secured with a cotton tulle bustier, with boning for added structure, and ribbon stays to secure on the body. No detail is gone without special care and expertise, even shoulder pads, some requiring two days of work, are made from the sculpted and shaped to perfection. Each garment is made-to-measure, with the exact specific measurements of each client or model who will wear the creation for the Haute Couture Defile. Maison Valentino is so precise on fit and proportion, that they request the measurements of every model from each agency, and create each look to fit perfect on each girl. An atelier of 60 seamstresses work on the collections in Rome, but a team of 200 employees is required to come to Paris, 3 days before the show, to complete and present the collection. Each collection keeps the romantic and feminine vision of Valentino, with a modern focus, attracting a wide group of clients worldwide.
Maison Valentino has a thriving haute couture business, catering to women, globally, that demand high-quality, made-to-measure, unique (yet timeless) garments to wear for every purpose and occasion. Madam Smirnoff indicated that their clients come from as far as Australia and Brazil, the U.S. and of course Asia and the Middle East. She receives many requests for looks off the runway, to simple separates, such as blouses and skirts, to meet client’s daily needs. Mr. Trotto works with many of the clients that come to Valentino, to create “adaptations” which are reinterpreted looks from the runway collections. Some clients order dresses as they appear on the runway, but many require changes, and other options, so that not two dresses are exactly the same. Katia Smirnoff ensures that the exact design is never reproduced for another client, and that no two women in the same city will have a variation of a design. Every garment must be unique and special for each woman, especially at this level. A Valentino haute couture garment can require anywhere from two to three months of labor, and made by Valentino’s skilled atelier; some of the tailors and dressmakers have worked at Valentino 20 years or more. It is not unusual that it takes years of dedication and training to become a skilled hand to work at one of the ateliers at Valentino. Many of their young apprentices practice the craft, under a watchful eye, for 10 to 15 years before they become a qualified hand to make an entire couture garment. The requirements to achieve a couture garment, sets haute couture at a whole different level which cannot compare to ready-to-wear garments, not matter how lovely or expensive some ready-to-wear garments can be. Sometimes, Madam Smirnoff receives request from women all over the world. But an understanding of haute couture is necessary. A couture garment cannot be purchased off the rack; it must be made to measure, and requires patience, especially when each dress requires three to five fittings.
A majority of Valentino’s couture business is in wedding gowns, which is sometimes the first couture piece a client will order in her lifetime. They have a private showroom, in which we met, dedicated to creating custom wedding gowns. Although collections are not available for bridal, many designs are custom visions between the designer and the client, or an “adaptation” of a dress shown in the main haute couture collection. Madam Smirnoff has archival boxes in the showroom, with large pieces of lace, tulles, and silks with which a client can experiment. She showed us panels or various types of silks that can be matched and paired with delicate haute couture laces, and veils that can be changed to a desired length and style. Maison Valentino can create a whole trousseau for a bride, which not only includes her wedding dress but, also made-to-measure pieces for her honeymoon and reception.
As the house of Valentino quietly serves the apparel needs of very private women, whom one will never see or hear about, they have publicly conquered the world. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli created a new energetic mood at Valentino while renovating and opening new stores worldwide. All Flag ships stores have been rejuvenated, representing a new generation, by capturing clean simple aesthetics with refinement of hand workmanship; Granite somber walls with hand-laid marble floors, and art-deco, simple, crystal light fixtures. Flagships globally received this make over, including New York, and most recently Shanghai. The Valentino brand has grown more in the Asian market, as women from China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore are attracted to the image of Valentino, their ready-to-wear and haute couture. To celebrate the Shanghai store opening, and a new expansion to Asia, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli designed a one-time only special capsule line for the occasion. On November 14, 2013, a spectacular runway show, presented an entirely red collection of both haute couture and ready-to-wear offerings, specifically designed for Shanghai. It was the first and only time both levels of fashion were presented by the house, for a specific territory. The collection is a mixture of the houses vision, with an eastern, more abstract influence, making this collection chic, elegant, yet unique and enchanting various shades of red, such as oxblood, crimson, and of course the Valentino Red, were used to create each piece, such as double faced pieces, capes, and feather appliqué lace dresses.
The House of Valentino has proven to be the epitome of Haute Couture. This brand has mastered the skills and experts of the craft, attracting a large, loyal clientele, and capturing a global audience that wants to experience the world of Valentino through different channels of media and technology available in today’s world. With an image and style of its own, not to mention its own color, Valentino has been able to successful compete with the changes of time and the demands of a modern generation. Being able to visit the home of Valentino Haute Couture was a privilege and inspiration, and I hope future generations will feel the same.