Valentino Spring 2012 Couture Review

Valentino  Spring 2012 Couture

Photos: Imaxtree

Looks from the Valentino Spring 2012 Couture runway.

SHOW: Valentino (See the full collection.)

THEME: Francophile in its purest terms

HAIR: Guido Palau

MAKE-UP: Pat McGrath

ACCESSORIES: Lace-embroidered gloves, flat passementerie-encrusted slippers, tulle ruffs

OVERALL TAKE-AWAY: Pastoral simplicity, with Haute Couture perfection

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli have undoubtedly made Valentino feel fresh and relevant for an entirely new generation of women. That's a big enough challenge in itself. For spring 2012, however, they tackled the sacred bastion of Haute Couture.

Normally you'd throw out a reference to Alta Moda around a Valentino show, the atelier based as it is in Rome rather than Paris. But this offering was Francophile in the purest terms, inspired by the rural idyll of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon and the eighteenth century's idealized vision of country life.

It may have been inspired by the rococo, but Chiuri and Piccioli's achievement was in making that feel utterly contemporary. Weightless satin, chiffon and lace were hand-painted with eighteenth century scenes but cut into twenty-first century shapes, billowing elegantly and easily around the body. There wasn't a touch of stiffness or sharpness to anything, nor a corset or pannier to be seen.

Alongside the full-length gowns with which both the eighteenth century and this hyper-feminine label has always been synonymous, there were sleek trousers and spare suits, curlicues of fabric forming sculptural decoration; look at the whirling painted woodwork of Marie Antoinette's neoclassical retreat and you'll find the inspiration behind those. But it also reminded one of the all-white couture collection Valentino showed in the 1960s.

What Chiuri and Piccioli's collection added up to was a compelling, enticing argument for Couture's very existence in the twenty-first century. If only they could all be as good as this.