There’s a story, a fable really, about the legendary editor Diana Vreeland. In 1945, after the liberation of Paris, she asked an assistant to send her a rose. Not a real rose, but something even more special: An artificial rose, made by one of the Paris couture house’s petits mains. If such a rose could be found, then the couture had outlasted the war. According to this story, Vreeland opened her mail one day to find such a rose. Fashion survived.
Five years later, young Valentino Garavani was offered a place at the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the school of couture. A short while later, he would launch his own house, based in Italy, and adopt the rose as one of his signatures. A dress from an early Valentino haute couture collection was a pale green cocktail dress with a border of roses, which he brought to Egypt to photograph on a model standing before the Great Sphinx. For Mr. Valentino, the rose was not only a symbol of the artistry of couture, but a token of timelessness, cultivation and the endurance of beauty.
This history is recounted in the book that accompanied the recent exhibition “Valentino: Master of Couture,” which was open at London’s Somerset House in November 2012. The book also includes a series of photographs by Giorgio Horn, commissioned for the show, of one of Mr. Valentino’s own petits mains- one of Les Ragazzes, “the Girls,” as they are known in Valentino’s atelier- creating a red rose from a ribbon of tulle. It’s magical to see the process, even in stills: Nothing, or nearly-nothing, becomes a wondrous something.
A search through the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum attests to Mr. Valentino’s long-term love affair with the rose. A particularly wonderful specimen in the archive include his 1963 sketch for a pink lace cocktail dress with ruched roses along the hem; there’s also a red tulle cocktail dress, from the Spring/Summer 1959 Haute Couture collection, with four rows of roses along the hem. That dress was referenced in Mr. Valentino’s final haute couture collection for his house, which included an extraordinary strapless gown of silk voile, in graduated shades of pink, with four rows of rose-like corollas on the skirt. That gown debuted on the runway in 2008; two years later, Valentino created rose-bedecked designs for the New Year’s Eve performance of the Staatsoper ballet in Vienna. There’s a photograph of the principal ballerina, dancing in her nude satin bustier gown, with a layered tulle skirt that seems to be blossoming pink roses. Taken more than fifty years after Mr. Valentino brought his rose-embellished cocktail frock to the pyramids, this image, too, is a testament to the beauty and timelessness of the Valentino rose.