“True Luxury Is When Others Come To You”
Giambattista Valli’s star continues to rise. For Spring, the designer showed his best-received collection yet—”There’s something about Giambattista Valli’s clothes that is so fundamentally optimistic, they’ve got you at hello,” said Style.com’s Tim Blanks—and last week, the designer opened his first Paris boutique, in the centuries-old Galerie de la Madeleine. “It’s an arrival, but like all arrivals, it’s a new starting point,” Valli said as we left his showroom across the way, a sprawling space whose original boiseries and imposing mantels once decorated the home of a fellow Giambattista: Giambattista Lulli, the seventeenth-century composer to King Louis XIV and founder of the French national opera.
Although bigger than a boudoir and more modern, the shop, which Valli created with architect and jewelry designer Luigi Scialanga, conveys a certain intimacy. It is punctuated by personal touches that reflect Valli’s eclectic interests, from original sketches by Yves Saint Laurent to forties Italian furniture. “I love bringing back the beauty of things,” he says, pointing out eighteenth-century porcelain pharmacy jars and a unique Fornasetti triptych mirror. Below, Valli discusses his vision of luxury and his manifold muses, and shares a few exclusive new shots of the store.
How did you approach creating this space?
These were several little shops before so we connected them and opened everything from floor to ceiling. I worked with Luigi Scialanga, the architect who does custom jewelry for my shows. We had to restore everything, then build it up again. I’m also presenting some of his one-off pieces of jewelry; he also designed trompe l’oeil upholstery for antique chairs and black croc throws (available by special order) for the shoe salon.
It looks sort of like a personal gallery.
If some guests come to my house, the feeling is exactly like the one you have in this boutique. I receive a customer as if it were my house so they feel like they’re meeting me.
I really wanted to create the feeling of privacy. For me, that is what luxury is about today: having a moment in a private space. I love the idea of having big windows yet not exposing the whole store. When you’re inside you feel protected, like you’re in another dimension. Some customers have already reserved the space for private appointments.
Your customer list is enviable—Eugenie Niarchos, Bianca Brandolini d’Adda, Margherita Missoni, and Tatiana Santo Domingo, to name just a few. Would you say any are muses for the collection?
I keep in mind so many women, so many gestures, so many people I meet. In every collection, there’s a muse, but sometimes they’re real and sometimes they’re not—it could be Little Red Riding Hood or it could be the myth of Apollo and Daphne and then it might be [Mexican actress] María Félix. I love eclecticism. My muse is my curiosity. The young “swans” are inspiring for their lifestyle. The other night I dined with Eugenie, and I told her she inspires me so much for the way she puts it together, her lifestyle—she has sort of a natural eccentricity I love. But I don’t look only at people who have names; I am inspired by lots of women just because it’s them—they could be any age, size, or color.
The shop is full of so many beautiful antiques. How much time do you spend trawling auctions and shops?
As much time as I can! It’s my biggest passion. Even when I am designing, sometimes I am on the phone.
Tell us about the YSL sketches in particular.
These are original sketches from my collection. I’m always on the lookout for them and sometimes I also sell one or two. Saint Laurent had a huge influence on my lifestyle. It’s almost my obsession; he was my first aesthetic epiphany—I must have been 10 years old. Later, whenever we met, I would tell him, “It’s because of you that I am in fashion.” Thanks to him I try to keep two sides to everything I do, sleek and urban on one side, balanced by an explosion of flowers or a bouquet of feathers.
There are also pieces displayed from past collections. Are they for sale?
We have a lot of customers who come for couture pieces, so we still produce or reinterpret them as couture pieces. If a client comes in and wants a shape from the current collection, we can also do it in fabrics from past collections. There’s a direct link with the couture studio upstairs. For the opening, there will be a line of Longchamp folding bags in fabrics from my collection and exotic leathers. There’s also an exclusive collection of four shoes—from my signature Décolleté stiletto from my first fashion show, to flats and low or high boots—which can be special-ordered in any color in about five weeks.
A little bit of anything and everything, in other words.
I am really building my own style—I keep adding things as they come to me naturally. I’m not part of a huge group, so I can do my own thing. I can take risks, but mistakes are a luxury. The clothes are always the heart of it.
You’ve mentioned “luxury” often. Has luxury come to mean something new?
I think I am bringing something new to luxury today. Real luxury needs substance, so you have to give it something beyond a product with a pretty ad. Even H&M wants to do luxury. Real luxury is something that’s not on the mass market. It’s not something where you’re restricted to three items at the cash register. It’s also not bling-bling. It’s unique pieces. It brings something to your lifestyle now. Which is why I didn’t do windows.
Luxury is a great love. Great friends. Having a private life alongside a professional one. Time to read beautiful books. Luxury is when you spend time—to shop for example—and you are exquisitely welcomed and you feel like you’re spending time off. It’s terrible when you walk into a temple of luxury, notably in Paris, and nothing is possible. Even if you know something is impossible—everything has to be possible. Luxury is not a private jet. True luxury is when others come to you.