IoS exhibition review: Valentino: Master of Couture, Smoerset House, London

2.00

You'd settle for a frock or two, but without the frills

Asurname can be de trop in the world of fashion, rather like the accessory you are advised to take off before leaving the house. Attached to each of several dozen little Louis XV chairs which line one room of this exhibition is a label, inked in a flamboyant hand: "Gisele", "Iman", "Twiggy" ... oh yes, and "La Princesse de Bulgarie". All are audience regulars of the couture shows of Valentino, formerly plain old Valentino Garavani, whose 50-year career is celebrated in a rather over-produced display in the south wing of Somerset House.

The first thing you encounter is a giant lightbox, a reference to the smart magazines that adoringly keep faith with the designer, season after season. The trouble with this piece of kit – several metres square – is that, wherever you stand, you're ill-placed to read the outsize slogans projected on it. I think I saw the words (next to an image of a naked beauty tied up in red beads) "Without Valentino, Rome would be dead". But surely not.

Equally specious are the displays in glass cases, the cases supported by the same chic, painted chairs, affixed to the wall. One is full of thank-you notes and – barely more interesting – expressions of regret that the famous invitee, Meryl, or Liza, could not attend some lavish event. And who knew that Vogue editor Anna Wintour has such enormous unjoined-up writing that she can fit only 20 words on a page of A4? A handwritten fax from Karl Lagerfeld shows he is subject to a similar ego-to-ink ratio.

Any cynicism subsides, though, when you reach the upper floor, set out as a 60-metre red-carpeted catwalk on either side of which are mannequins, both standing and seated on those chairs, modelling couture. It's a pity the red-printed brochure is so hard to read (impossible under moody lighting) because it offers the only clue that the mannequins themselves are colour-coded by decade. "Mint" for the 1950s, "mustard" for the 1960s, "ice" and so on. This is crucial information since the clothes are otherwise grouped by theme: daywear here, cocktail dresses there. The randomness underlines the way Valentino's designs do not, on the whole, follow fashion. A neat, navy wool shift from 1959 or a sharply cut collarless coat in black georgette from 1971 are highly wearable today, with or without the "vintage" tag.

The unreadable brochure also tells you when an outfit has had a famous wearer: a velvet and tulle number was worn by Julia Roberts at the 2001 Oscars, while a white gown trimmed with lace appliqué was Jackie Kennedy's on the day she became Jackie Onassis, and from the same year, 1968, a cream organza ensemble bestrewn with tiny white daisies, each individually attached with a pearl, was made for Audrey Hepburn. Interestingly, the one thing that's never mentioned is the price.

More rewarding for the admirer of beautiful things is the element of high-end craftsmanship that goes into each piece of Valentino couture. A glossary is provided to help with such terms as "incrostazione" (the layering of cut lace over tulle) and "crinoline" (not what you'd think) but, alas, these explanations also fall prey to illegibility in the vermilion print of the brochure. A paucity of signage, too, means that the final two rooms in the exhibition risk being missed. Such shoddy attention to detail is not of a piece with the goods.

To 3 Mar (020-7845 4600)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

    Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

    Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

    £15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future