Around the world in 37 looks: that was the not entirely serious excursion Valentino Garavani took for the delight of his spring couture customers. Accompanying the sequence of outfits (jauntily named "Sevilla, No Bull," "Body and Seoul," "Courting Versailles," etc.) was a travelogue slide show, complete with sound effectsa bullring, a desert, the Parthenon, Kew Gardens, you get the idea. The designer's point, he said, was that "haute couture is now an entirely global affair."
As always, the collection was delivered as a dashingly flattering compliment to his clients, whether they come from Asia, Russia, India, or South America. And what his audience really glimpsed, of course, was not the world at large but the luxurious interior landscape that Valentino has mapped out for himself since the 1950'sthat old-school wonderland where women are treated as creatures made of spun glass. Nowhere else in haute couture is there a surviving vision of immaculate beautychignoned, ruby lipped, and pencil browedlike Mr. Valentino's. No one else works so devotedly to provide so many variations on a luncheon suit, from mixed-texture dresses and coats to jacket, blouse, and pant ensembles, trimmed with lace jabots, ostrich feathers, and big succulent satin bows.
Sometimes, that's the pleasure of Valentino's couturesimply the fact that it still exists. But he also never fails to send in a breathtaking example or two of feminine, want-able, wearable relevance. Take "Paris Loves Lovers," for instance: an ivory satin cocktail bustier dress overlaid with a floating layer of black beaded tulle. Or "Hollywood High," a sinuous, palest-green sequined gown topped with a fluffy ostrich bolero. Both are guaranteed to cause not-so-ladylike, modern-world catfights in the run-up to Oscar night.