“Go big and stay home,” Giambattista Valli decreed on a video call from Paris, adapting his oft-used mantra to a new normal. Now, wafting around in thousands of layers of taffeta may not sound like a regular lockdown evening to most, but trust last summer’s sales figures when Valli tells you: These people exist. Did he sell some ball gowns, then? “Did I, did I, did I! I have some very extraordinary Chinese clients who are looking for these statement moments. It’s also working really well in the Middle East, and there’s commitment in Europe. Haute couture can always be adapted to demand.”
Encouraged by experience, Valli stuck to his guns and dedicated this unusual season to the volumes close to his heart. “Sometimes I look at other couture houses and I see a lot of decoration. Couture is not about decoration. Couture is about volumes,” he asserted. “When you sketch ready-to-wear, you have to be a designer. When you create haute couture, you have to be a sculptor. It’s the difference between building a space and decorating it.” Employing the tools at hand—the bias cut, dégradé, miles of taffeta—he worked every one of them to achieve the formidable dimensions that embodied this collection.
It created the internet-friendly tiered and layered candy-floss creations that fuel his haute couture business, even during lockdown. Some were shaped like swans, some looked like blown-up pleated ribbon; others were Grecian, harking back to the classic shapes of haute couture. He topped them off with hair volumes inspired by 1960s pictures of Benedetta Barzini and Marisa Berenson. They took Zoom looks to new highs. Of his process, Valli explained: “I try to follow what the fabric suggests. I follow it, and it gives me volumes.” But as the film he released alongside his look book demonstrated, his love of sculpture is more than just an analogy for his practice.
Split-screened with models pacing a white room in their big gowns accompanied by a male ballet dancer pirouetting up a storm (the perfect image of Valli’s couture clients on any given evening at home) was footage of buildings from Seville that created conversations between spaces and clothes. It was Valli’s way of showing his clients what inspires his sense of volume, but it also conveyed a bigger message. “The moment we live in right now is about coming together between cultures. Seville is a place where the Spanish and Islamic cultures melt together and create a new third culture.”
Through that lens, you could easily see the codes of Sevillana and flamenco flouncing their way through Valli’s ruffled skirts—or the drama of the mantilla reflected in his high, translucent veils—but he was adamant that wasn’t the point. “If I added another piece to the collection, it would probably be a stripy djellaba in the middle,” he noted. “Marco Polo went to China and brought the noodle back to Italy. It’s about exchange. We all look up at the same moon and sun.” You could say a dress conceived in Seville, in the mind of a boy from Rome, created in an atelier in Paris, and worn in a ballroom in China reflects that notion rather nicely.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com