Of the mighty Italian designers, Valentino must rank as one of the mightiest. The perma-tanned, perma-elegant Lombardian has been on the scene for nearly a half century and in that time he has become one of the most successful couturiers in history, and undoubtedly, one of the most popular and well known figures in fashion.
Though his women’s collections receive just attention, he is not a one trick pony. There are tens of designers who can’t match the quality of one gender’s collection with another. Ralph Lauren is a rarity in that his men’s collections are actually more dynamic and intriguing than his women’s collections – a mark of his personal taste more than his undoubted ability. Galliano, try though he might, just can’t cut it with the boys. While there is something interesting about his approach and his imagination, his magnificent couture skill actually affects his ready to wear negatively; his conjuring is restricted to the fantastical and despite his creativity in the field of female couture, there is an embarrassing lack of it in his spring 2008 men’s collection.
Valentino, on the other hand captures ‘need’ and ‘want’ without sacrificing invention; he has been measured and realistic about his artistry. And importantly, he didn’t allow his couture fantasy anywhere near his men’s ready-to-wear cutting table. The comparison with Galliano might seem unfair; indeed it is central to the Gilbraltarian’s strategy to introduce the couture rudiments of exploration and experimentation to the generally staid arena of functional menswear. However, his acknowledgment of timelessness is relatively weak in comparison to Valentino. It’s not that the Italian doesn’t want things to change, it’s just that when something is not broken, there’s nothing to fix.
Valentino’s menswear collections focus on tradition. Although, as one commentator on this site pointed out, the Spring 2008 collection was certainly one of the best in recent times, there has been a reassuring reliability to Senor Valentino. Plenty of designers have been hit and miss in the style stakes. ‘Fashionistas’ may laud anything and everything, but it actually takes more to impress arbiters of style. This is not because said arbiters have any special sensibility of ‘good’ fashion or ‘bad’ fashion, but that, generally speaking, they are more difficult to coax from their shells. When it comes to the future, arbiters of style are generally more willing purchasers of pessimism. However, one shouldn’t run away with the idea that this is a particularly bad thing; fashionistas can be inappropriately gushing and quite frightening in their blind optimism and utter devotion to trend.
In a menswear department Valentino had the ability to delight both. His snappy tailoring of men’s classic fashions updated reliable and well-loved looks to the applause of the fashion world and they never seem to approach absurdity or over-theatrics, thus entitling him to the long lasting approval of generations of style men. Though inevitable, his retirement is a great shame as it seems to have ended this happy co-existence of couture and male and female ready to wear.
And with Pozzoni as creative director, an ambitious couturier himself, what future holds for the men’s collections from the house of Valentino? It seems that despite his guarded, derivative Fall 2008 collections that nursed Valentino’s legacy, there might be some changes to come, and if couture is Pozzoni’s future then what embracement of continuity will there be?
After Slimane’s fall from Dior, it was suspected that the first collection from Kris Van Assche would be ‘Hedi-reverential’ and indeed, largely, it was. However, the difficulty in following a great name seems to have affected him as the unimpressive Fall 2008 collection illustrates. Slimane’s Dior collections were certainly fashion forward, but he recognised timeless urbanity and translated it competently.
Pozzoni is fortunate in that his responsibility at Valentino is so small, but despite this, he is stepping into some very large and very well respected shoes. Valentino had a gift for recognising, quite simply, what looks good with what. From his elaborate couture to his sturdy menswear that defined eighties chic, Val showed a talent extremely difficult to replace.