Valentino Captures The Essence Of Glamour At Somerset House

In the 17th century it was used as a royal residence and today Somerset House in central London is the home of an exhibition in honour of one of the kings of couture – Valentino.

Behind the neoclassical doors of Somerset House – once used by the queens of James I, Charles I and Charles II, as well as Anne of Denmark – is an array of breath-taking haute couture outfits (well deserving of any royal seal of approval) all displayed in an innovative, approachable and instantly appealing manner.

From the entrance, adorned by the designer’s subtle yet elegant signature rose, visitors are invited to take a welcome break from the recession-ridden drab winter days outside and literally step onto a catwalk surrounded by unashamed luxury and glamour that is Valentino: Master of Couture.

Master of couture

Valentino, the 80-year-old Italian designer says that he hopes this exhibition, created exclusively for Somerset house, will: “give the essence of femininity, the essence of glamour and the essence of haute couture and perfection.The dress”, he says “is like a sculpture that is done on the body of a lady.” The exhibition, running until 3 March, is divided into three sections: The History of Valentino, The Catwalk, and The Atelier.

Valentino’s Exhibition

As you enter, you are introduced to displays which highlight Valentino’s history in fashion from the dawn of his couture house until his recent retirement. Various sketches, clippings, letters and tokens of appreciation from the press and even personal notes from celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy are also on show.

From here onwards, you are guided to a catwalk like no other. Maximising the Embankment Gallery to its full effect – the set-up, opposite of what you might expect from a normal catwalk, allows the visitor to take the stage and walk along a 60-metre long catwalk, while the mannequins are lined on either side.  Behind these mannequins are gilt chairs bearing the names of Valentino’s most devoted fans including Audrey Hepburn and, more recently, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Anne Hathaway.

Valentino’s Mannequins

The gowns are displayed on colour-coded mannequins representing each decade: mint for the fifties, mustard for the sixties, violet for the nineties and so on. The lighting down the catwalk is subtle and the different postures of the mannequins make them appear realistic as well as accentuating the details on each of these couture pieces. There are also a number of “celebrity dresses” worn by the likes of Sophia Lauren, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow. All the gowns are immaculate and a true testament to the couturier’s lifetime of work.The final couture gown from the exhibition is the ‘grande finale’ and is none other than the wedding dress of Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece. The gown, separated with its own catwalk, clearly highlights the painstaking process of crafting couture – it took 25 seamstresses four months to complete this show stopping gown for the royal bride.

The last segment of the exhibition includes specially commissioned films to give the audience an insight of how the seamstresses – le ragazze – make Valentino’s signature designs. Techniques such as the floating flounce to the iconic silk tulle rose can be learned through these video presentations.

The exhibition clearly emphasises that creating the impression of simplicity is far from easy and the one-of-a-kind designer’s elegant couture gowns have exemplified that great fashion is timeless.

Valentino: Master of Couture will run until 3 March 2013; from 10am – 6pm daily – with late night access until 9pm on Thursdays. For more information visit