“Pastoral” was a key trend for Spring 2016, with more than a few designers turning their attention to nature. Mr. Valentino is no stranger to this theme: Over the course of his career at the helm of his maison, he often drew on the beauty of flowers and other vegetable life for inspiration. Perhaps no photographer better articulated the symbiosis of flora and fashion at Valentino than Michael Thompson. Though he’s not a household name, Thompson has been a go-to lensman for the industry since he set up shop in New York in the early 1990s, and two of his campaigns for Valentino, for Spring/Summer Haute Couture and Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear 1998, are notable for the way they engage a dialogue with nature.
Shooting the Spring/Summer 1998 Haute Couture campaign, Thompson snapped one of the all-time iconic Valentino gowns, an ivory taffeta confection with a full crinoline skirt, covered in a handpainted wallpaper pattern of red flower shoots embellished with sequins, crystals and beads. For the campaign, Thompson set this extravagant gown against a hothouse backdrop, filling every inch of the frame with tropical plants. The setting underscored the gown’s exultation in nature’s abundance—this was maximalism with a point to make.
For his Ready-to-Wear campaign that season, Thompson went in the other direction. Posing model Danielle Zinaich on the floor in a lilac-toned slipdress with gossamer under-layers of pale yellow and mauve silk, Thompson aimed for an effect that was, if not minimalist, formally composed to the nth degree. (Thomspon learned well from his mentor, Irving Penn.) Orchids were arrayed around Zinaich, highlighting the relationship between the spare beauty of the flower and the unadorned elegance of the Valentino dress.
Thompson’s shots of the maximalist taffeta floral gown and the minimalist lilac slipdress make for two of the most meditative images in the Valentino campaign archive. They reveal the photographer’s respect for both nature and fashion—and accentuate the love of nature that Mr. Valentino brought to the fashion he made.