I had a wonderful day yesterday for 2 reasons. Firstly it was my first ever blogger meet-up, and secondly the venue for the meet was the Valentino, Master of Couture exhibition at Somerset House.
I met Jacq of A Good Talking To outside the Strand entrance to Somerset House yesterday morning. Luckily we recognised each other straight away, helped a little I think by the fact I was wearing my recently completed Vogue coat, which being very bright certainly marked me out in the crowd!
I was a little nervous, I’m actually quite shy, but Jacq is as lovely as she seems on her blog and very easy to talk to. Within minutes – seconds probably – we were chatting away as easily as if we’d known each other for ages.
We walked through the courtyard in the centre of the buildings, which is currently taken up by the ice rink, and after negotiating several lots of stairs and lifts we found the entrance to the exhibition 0 right by the Embankment entrance on the opposite side of the building to where we met!
The exhibition is split into three separate sections, each beautifully laid out.
The first section gives a brief timeline of Valentino’s career and accompanying this is a display of personal photographs and correspondence, including letters from other designers and various stars in the film and fashion world. These are displayed in white glass topped cabinets supported on the type of elegant chairs you would find on the front row of a couture fashion show.
A glass staircase then takes you up to the second – probably what you would call the “main” section – of the exhibition. This is a display of over 130 of Valentino’s designs, modelled by elegant colour coded mannequins, their colour denoting the decade in which the outfit was designed. The mannequins are set either side of a “catwalk” sitting on or standing by the same chairs that support the cabinets in the first section. The visitor walks down the centre as the models would in a catwalk show. The displays are roped off from the catwalk, but you can get very close to some of them, close enough to see the seam in a bias cut strip finishing a hem on one dress is in the centre front, and that some of the coats are not lined.
We spent quite a bit of time peering at various outfits to see if we could work out how different things had been done!
What I loved about this section is that the outfits are grouped by themes, rather than in chronological order. There are sections featuring elegant black dresses, white outfits, animal print, pastels, among others. Having the outfits displayed in this way also made it easier and more enjoyable to pick out recurring themes in Valentino’s designs, with often the same detail being used several decades apart.
The very first outfit on display was one of my favourites, a simple and stunning navy wool cocktail dress from 1959.
This to me is the epitome of timeless design. You could wear this to a smart event today without looking like you were wearing a vintage “costume”. I love the curved seam under the bust and the soft pleats either side. This dress, as many within the collection did, had the bodice and sleeve cut in one piece, with the shoulder seam extending along the upper arm.
If I could own one dress from this amazing collection it would be this one.
Funnily enough, this morning I realised I had Valentino’s original sketch of this dress on one of my Pinterest boards.
This crepe georgette cocktail dress from 1960 was another of my favourites. Again, I don't think it looks at all dated.
Both Jacq and I seemed to prefer the earlier designs from the 1960’s. Their simplicity gave an elegance which seemed lacking in some of the designs from the 1980’s and early 90’s when it seemed that more was more. Very few of the earlier designs appeared dated, whereas some of the 80’s ones were very much of their time and would look very out of place today.
This red evening gown was worn by Anne Hathaway at the 2011 Oscar ceremony. It was unbelievably tiny! I think I’d have needed 2 of them to fit me.
When we had walked the catwalk another set of stairs led us down to the final section of the exhibition, which gives an insight into some of the couture techniques used in the construction of the garments, some of which are unique to Valentino.
A sample of each technique is displayed in a glass topped inset to the large padded, canvas covered display table, and with video screens showing seamstresses demonstrating some of them.
A “Rose di Volant” panel created from bias cut silk georgette which formed the waist panel on a stunning evening dress.
This stunning evening cape is created using a technique called “Pagine”, in which circles of silk georgette are sewn like pages of a book against the backing fabric.
This evening dress features “Budellini” – tubes of bias cut silk filled with loops of wool and finished with a beaded tassel. I can only imagine how amazing they would look swaying gently as you walked in this dress.
Jacq and I spent 3 hours in the exhibition and it passed in a flash. It was a wonderful experience that I would have enjoyed had I visited alone, however it was made all the better for visiting with someone I could discuss the minute detail of each garment with.
If you’re interested in fashion and sewing I would highly recommend a visit to this amazing exhibition.