Valentino bids a final farewell in Paris couture week
His last ever collection capping a dazzling 45-year career will be presented on Wednesday in the appropriately gracious surroundings of the Rodin museum on Paris' upscale Left Bank, before 700 invited guests, nearly twice the usual number.
"It will be a grand collection, a grand show, with lots of gowns," a spokesman for the house told AFP.
The following day the 75-year-old designer will be presented with a medal by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe honouring his lifetime achievement and the Italian's longstanding love affair with Paris.
His successor, Alessandra Facchinetti, former artistic director at Gucci, makes her debut in March with her first collection of women's ready-to-wear for the house.
Apart from Valentino's departure, this season sees two new names officially elevated to the elite ranks of haute couture: France's Anne Valerie Hash and Italy's Maurizio Galante.
Hash, 37, learned her craft at Chanel, Christian Lacroix and Christian Dior before founding her own label in 1997. Her hallmark is integrating elements of deconstructed male tailoring into her couture.
Galante, 44, signed his first couture collection in 1993, eight years after launching his ready-to-wear line. His highly-stylised designs rely for their effect on clever use of volume and drapery.
The big international names in couture are all showing in the first three days of next week: Christian Dior on Monday, Chanel, Christian Lacroix and Givenchy on Tuesday and Jean-Paul Gaultier on Wednesday.
Among the other regulars invited to present their couture are Italy's Giorgio Armani, Lebanon's Elie Saab and Portugal's Felipe Oliveira Baptista.
Emanuel Ungaro, which has retained the haute couture designation, will be absent yet again this season. A spokesman for the house said it now only produced haute couture for "special projects."
Another absentee for several seasons is the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer, which lost its designer Stephane Rolland last summer and has since pulled out of haute couture.
Rolland, meanwhile, has started his own couture label and will be among four aspiring couturiers showing on the last day of the collections.
The others are Belgium's Jean-Paul Knott, new artistic designer at Cerruti, Spanish designer Josep Font, who has already shown ready-to-wear in Paris, and Alexis Mabille, who trained at Nina Ricci and Ungaro and has designed a unisex ready-to-wear line since 2005.
Even with the new additions, the charmed circle of couturiers entitled to use that name has hovered around a dozen for some years. To boost attendance, the French Couture Federation which organises the calendar of the shows allows a host of designers of luxury ready-to-wear to present their collections on the periphery.
Jean-Jacques Picart, consultant to the LVMH luxury group, believes that some form of hybrid between couture and designer ready-to-wear is the future.
"Haute couture is like Versailles, we are happy that people still come to visit," but "it is obsolete in commercial terms," he told AFP in an interview.
Couture, which caters to an ever-shrinking handful of the world's wealthiest women, is an anachronism for today's hectic lifestyle.
Didier Grumbach, head of the French Couture Federation, agrees that "nowadays women seldom want to come for three fittings and wait for three weeks to get the perfect dress."
He believes the gap between ready-to-wear and haute couture is already closing. "Little by little they will merge."
by Dominique Schroeder
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