Mr. Valentino’s first job as a fashion designer was at the couture house of Jean Dessès. While working at the Dessès atelier in Paris, he sketched ten dresses—the “Dream” dresses, as they’re known now. And indeed, these frocks remained a fantasy for nearly forty years: Mr. Valentino’s sketches were only realized as clothes in 1990, when they were made up by the workers at his own atelier, for inclusion in the retrospective exhibition “Valentino: Thirty Years of Magic.” As Bernadine Morris noted in her book Valentino, the ten “Dream” styles opened the exhibition, and “were immediately revealed to be precursors of themes which [Mr. Valentino] would elaborate on later in his career.”
So what are the “Dream” dresses? The silhouettes for day are pencil-slender, sometimes for evening, too. There are a few, as Morris put it, “bouffant” shapes for evening as well, nip-waist cocktail frocks descending to the calf or ankle, which were very much in keeping with the New Look style of their 1955 design. Embellishment, a key motif for Mr. Valentino throughout his career, is present in the “Dream” looks, with jewel embroidery and (Morris’ words again) “back-flowing chiffon panel or capes” that soften the effect of the slimmer shapes. Other flourishes that Mr. Valentino would later revisit include leopard print and graphic black-and-white embroidery.
“We can see in this mini-collection the first appearance of Valentino red,” Morris wrote of the color that first seduced Mr. Valentino on a trip to the opera in Barcelona. But, she added, the most important Valentino signature the Dream looks foreshadowed was the designer’s career-long sense of soigné, or, in her words, “elegance and authority.” “These are in no way the sketches of a tentative student,” Morris noted. “Rather, it is as if Valentino as a designer emerged fully grown from the head of Zeus. The dresses work and each has a sense of balance and proportion—an astonishing accomplishment for a man in his early twenties.” Four years after creating the “Dream” dress sketches, Mr. Valentino would open his own atelier on the Via Condotti in Rome.