March 08, 2009 Paris
The first point of difference was in the length. Though it opened with a short orange swing coat, the distinctive mark of the collection emerged via the ankle-grazing, almost monastic proportions that followed. In a season when there's been too much ultra-short on the runways, it was a brave yet wholly refreshing move, providing a plethora of gorgeous double-faced coats and neat cropped jackets with exaggerated sleeves, paired with narrow skirts that had a gentle volume gathered into the waist.
Saint Laurent's influence was certainly there, though deployed in ways that never strayed into heavy-handed homage. There were hints of the Russian collection in the plaited and tasseled silk belts and the glowing metallic brocades, but the strongest looks were those where the designer removed all decoration and downplayed color to allow the skill of his cutting to speak for itself. Spare, draped dresses in matte navy, teal, or maroon looked truly sophisticated, carrying the hallmarks of Valli's appeal to women who move in the upper echelons of international aristocracy (one gown came wrapped in a mohair djellaba cloak that could have been designed with his most high-profile client, Queen Rania of Jordan, in mind). These days, even the wealthy are eschewing the flashy and unnecessary in fashion, a change in mood Valli has clearly comprehended. This collection brought out his underlying strengths as a designer who understands how soft architecture and social tact can work beautifully together.