A taste for the elaborate: Haute couture genius Giambattista Valli sees beauty in the ornamental

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Italian designer is only 46, but he seems built for haute couture. His clothes are complicated, frilly, unashamedly decorative and end up making women look beautiful

Giambattista Valli is a great name. For one, it sounds rather grand, cultured, terribly Italian. You can easily imagine it scrawled in spidery handwriting across the label inside a hand-beaded ballgown. That's exactly where it ends up, usually. Valli is an haute couturier. Indeed, he's among the hautest of them all.

That terminology is unusual: these days, fashion designers are just that. If they work in haute couture, they've usually inherited a label, like Raf Simons at Christian Dior, or even Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. True couturiers are a rare breed. Giambattista Valli is only 46, but he seems built for haute couture. His clothes are complicated, frilly, unashamedly decorative. In less sure hands they would end up fussy, but in his they just end up making women look beautiful. "It's all about that," Valli states, unequivocally. "That's why we work in beauty."

Albeit beauty in a very traditional sense. Perhaps that's the reason Valli was drawn to haute couture in the first place. Despite being fashion's equivalent of Formula One, the time-consuming handicraft and expertise required to create haute couture tends to put fashion designers off.

The price-tags put off the clients: handmade couture dresses, at conservative estimate, cost upwards of £20,000. But Valli has a flourishing couture business:f his clients include bold-face names and minor European royalty, women like Greek shipping heiress Eugenie Niarchos, socialite Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis, and Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy's sister. That's an impressive swathe across both personality and age. Niarchos is 27, Radziwill 80. They both adore Valli, the man and his dresses.

Radziwill has even committed that affection to paper. She writes one of a multitude of forewords and post-scripts, by figures including the artist Francesco Clemente, actress Diane Kruger and American Vogue's Hamish Bowles, for a monograph published this month by Rizzoli. The tome is heavy. The bias towards the intricate couture details Valli and his clients so love is heavier still. "His sense of perfection and his sense of curiosity is limitless," states Radziwill in her piece, titled 'Obsessions'. "He has the soul of a poet."

Those must be some pretty great dresses.

A portrait of Giambattista Valli, by Francesco Clemente (Giambattista Valli, by Rizzoli) A portrait of Giambattista Valli, by Francesco Clemente (Giambattista Valli, by Rizzoli)
Giambattista Valli was born in Rome in 1966. Rome isn't Paris, the birthplace of haute couture. But it is the home of the Italian equivalent, the alta moda. Maybe it was Rome that influenced the young Valli, because he states "It wasn't my mama. I don't have any sisters, you know. I don't have that story… I knew it. I don't know how or who or from where I knew it, but when I was 11 I already knew it."

Valli's career began there when, after stints studying in his hometown and at London's Central Saint Martins, he began working with Italian designer Roberto Capucci. Known for a flamboyant use of cloth, Capucci's trademarks were jaw-dropping evening gowns in lurid shades. Most weighed upwards of a stone.

You can see shades of the grandiose Capucci in much of Valli's work today. His haute couture collections are known for their sculpting and shaping of fabrics, curlicuing around the body. He has a taste for the elaborate. His latest couture, for winter 2013, was inspired by porcelain, from Capodimonte to Sèvres. "I wanted to do a new shape and I wanted to do something that was a silhouette, but at the same time super light," reasons Valli. "Porcelain, to me, is something that has a shape and is super light, so I loved it." It's also, again, incredibly feminine. And, of course, expensive.

Many see those prices as the main limitation of haute couture. You tend to only get very rich when you get very old. Valli, however, asserts exactly the opposite. "My customers, I can say, 28 to 38 is the core. It has to be exciting, it has to be seducing for these girls. Seducing for the men who seduce girls."

Valli grins at that. "So it doesn't have to be just experimental or something that promotes a lipstick or a fragrance, it has to be something that somebody really wants to wear and really wants to collect… Their mothers used to wear couture and they really love something unique. It's a generation where they don't want to look like everybody. I don't make it to promote fragrances. I mean, my biggest business has been to make clothes, and then to make accessories. But it's not the opposite."

Giambattista Valli sketches for his autumn/winter 2011 collection (Giambattista Valli, by Rizzoli) Giambattista Valli sketches for his autumn/winter 2011 collection (Giambattista Valli, by Rizzoli)
That assertion comes from experience. Valli hasn't always been cosseted in haute couture. After Capucci, he worked with the Italian houses Krizia and Fendi (Maria Silvia Venturini Fendi, head of accessories at her family-run fashion house, also contributes to the book). But it was only when he joined Emanuel Ungaro in 1997 that he rapidly came to public attention. He also came to Paris, to live and work. He's stayed there ever since.

Ungaro had been sold to Ferragamo and, says, Valli, "they were looking for somebody to be close to him and next to him. And so…" And so, following Ungaro's partnership with Salvatore Ferragamo in 1996, Valli was rapidly recruited to help give the house a new relevance. In the late Nineties, Ungaro was in dire straits. Woefully unfashionable, having fallen from its height of Eighties influence, the house was struggling to make ends meet.

However, Ungaro still had their haute couture ateliers, where changes were first wrought. Valli lightened the hand, helping to turn Ungaro around. It filtered to ready-to-wear, and to those all-important accessories and perfumes. By the time the fragrance Desnuda was launched in 2001, Ungaro was cool again. Emanuel Ungaro handed him control of the ready-to-wear collections in October 2001, and considered him his hand-picked successor.

Chrysanthemum flowers inspired Valli to create this ruffled dress (Giambattista Valli, by Rizzoli) Chrysanthemum flowers inspired Valli to create this ruffled dress (Giambattista Valli, by Rizzoli)
It wasn't to be. "One day I said to myself, 'I've translated the language of many people but now I want to talk mine'," recalls Valli. The house of Valli was founded in 2004: its headquarters are in the former home of the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, another Italian exile in Paris. Lully created music for Louis XIV. Valli dresses his modern descendants – both in blood, and in pure flamboyance. It feels like the perfect home for him.

As does haute couture. Valli joined the official schedule in 2011, although his intricate clothes had borne more than a tinge of the couture before. It even translates to a line he designs for sportswear company Moncler, and his own ready-to-wear (he creates four collections a year, alongside the couture).

Haute couture isn't a single-minded focus for Valli. "Couture for me, it's very important… it's an expression and it's so free, so dreamy," he begins. "But then I translate for ready-to-wear. And that, I think, is probably the most successful key of my pieces, even in ready-to-wear. Because they have something more. Even the customers, the buyers, when they see the collection, I always get compliments – 'Oh it's finished so well', 'Oh my God, it's so divine'. I think couture is a state of mind." It's a state of mind but, ultimately, a case of heart over head.

'Giambattista Valli' is published by Rizzoli on Tuesday, priced £60

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
film
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

    Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot