Thread count: Exactly what it takes to make Valentino couture

Valentino's designers reveal the seams and sensibilities required to create their latest couture collection, writes Francesca Fearon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 5:47pm

In an elegant and beautifully restored Parisian town house near the Arc de Triomphe on the last evening of the haute couture shows, clients gathered to see what magic Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli had created for Valentino's autumn collection.

Clients in gilded chairs lined the catwalk, everyone close enough to almost touch the graceful gowns as the models brushed past. Up close, you could really appreciate the exquisite workmanship that makes haute couture so special and why clients are so willing to buy.

Outside of the salon fitting room, no one discusses prices, but figures are believed to start at €50,000 (HK$512,000) and escalate depending on the number of hours it takes to make the clothes (bridal gowns can be in excess of €200,000). And business is thriving.

Chiuri and Piccioli, who have been at the helm of Valentino for five years, are magicians at rustling up enchanting collections out of organza, lace and cashmere.

Their idea of luxury focuses on craftsmanship that they have made modern and effortless even if, in reality, it takes hundreds of hours to create. They spotlight the age-old refined techniques of hand-beading and embroidery found at their Rome atelier, and bring a fresh attitude and youthful spirit to the house. They thoughtfully add descriptions to their show notes of the techniques that have gone into making a gown or a coat. Sometimes they list the hours of embroidery.

Look 22, a rosewood-coloured dress with an embroidered tapestry design in emeralds and crystals, took 1,200 hours to embroider. Look 39, a tweed cape trimmed in Breitschwanz fur and organza dress, both embroidered with silver thistles, required 3,000 metres of pure silver thread and 4,000 rose-shaped crystals. The pièce de résistance is a gown with a shoulder train stitched with 2,200 river pearls and gold thread; the look is sublime. Couture has evolved into a skilled art form.

The theme for their romantic designs was one of those wonderful old cabinets of curiosities - where you might display an eclectic mix of pictorial oddities like a Renaissance portrait next to an ancient text, a statue of a Chinese dragon or a piece of coral.

The coral was the inspiration for a number of embroidered gowns, while the Renaissance picture led to the opening look - a demure gown of gilded guipure lace framing a series of hand-painted miniatures of fantastical beasts. It sounds weird but looked wonderful.

The clothes are chic and modern, the depth and range of the designers' inspiration is breathtaking and their artisans' skills are priceless.

To illustrate what goes into making a Valentino gown, we've taken Look 21 - a Chinese-inspired coat and dress from the show - and explained the craftsmanship stitch by stitch.