With all the recent buzz among my non-fashion industry friends regarding the upcoming return of the â€œlizard peopleâ€ of V to television, I couldn’t help but ponder the significance of the letter â€œVâ€ to various social groups. Just the other day, â€œVâ€ stood once again for â€œVictoryâ€ – and â€œVeteranâ€ – at the annual Veteran’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue here in New York. To legions of True Blood fans, the letter â€œVâ€ conjures the siren’s call of the highly-addictive â€œVampireâ€ blood. So – what does â€œVâ€ stand for to fashion folk? Why â€œValentinoâ€, of course. That would be Monsieur Valentino Garavani, s’il vous plait.
My earliest memory of the brand, long before I knew anything of the man, was a multi-page ad featuring a triumphant Linda Evangelista striding across the pages in a series of spectacular red dresses. Over the years, I learned bits and pieces of random information about the man behind the brand. In the pages of glossy society magazines like W, Hello!, and OK!, I saw pictures of the eternally tan designer in Gstaad at his chalet on his annual ski holiday or in St. Tropez on the deck of his 152-foot yacht, the T.M. Blue One, with its Peter Marino-designed interior. Or he was hosting elegant soirees at Wideville, the Louis XIII chateau outside Paris that he restored â€œfor La Franceâ€ without a penny of government money. I learned he keeps pugs and they travel everywhere with him. I also learned that the name of the man that is always over his shoulder in pictures is Giancarlo Giametti.
In the 1960s, the women we now call â€œstyle iconsâ€ – those women whose personal taste was so impeccable that they would eventually be retired from Eleanor Lambert’s International Best Dressed list for being â€œabove annual comparisonâ€ – flocked to Valentino. Truman Capote’s Swans – Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Slim Keith, and his fellow Italian, Marella Agnelli – and the Hollywood Girls – Liz Taylor (then Mrs. Burton) and Audrey Hepburn – all wore Valentino. Jackie Kennedy’s widow’s weeds were Valentino. She wore six of his black and white haute couture dresses during her year of formal mourning – and then she wore white Valentino to wed Ari Onassis.
If you’re wondering where this is all going, I do have a fashion point to make. Valentino, in our time, became synonymous with the red dresses that graced his haute couture and ready-to-wear collections. So much so that he named his more moderately priced ready-to-wear line Valentino R.E.D. This signature Valentino red or rosso Valentino is a blend of magenta, yellow and black – and instantly recognizable the whole world over from Dallas to Dubai! Almost every one of his collections has featured a dress in this color and almost every woman I know who has ever worn one considered it a major right of passage in her fashion life.
With the holidays upon us, the women I know are obsessed with what to wear to chic holiday cocktail parties, gala charity dinners, and the biggest fashion parade of them all, the opera. I say drop the LBD, forget going for the gold, and go for the RED! Here – whew, finally, you’re probably saying by now – are my top picks for red dresses that will be sure to stop traffic wherever this season takes you.
How could I not start with Valentino after such a lengthy homage? Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, who served as accessories designers under Valentino himself, now hold the reins of the brand. While they respect the history of the house, they are also trying to forge their own names and bring the label to a whole new generation of women. The signature Valentino red only appeared once on the runway for this season, in the simplest of silhouettes. The bateau-necked, sleeveless loose sheath is ultra-feminine and sexy without being overt, just as fans of the brand demand, but in a very different way than when the brand was under the supervision of the maestro himself. If your legs are your best feature and you are not so keen on your shoulders or upper arms, then opt for America’s own Andrew Gn. His half-sleeve, boat-necked mini-shift is girly, yet sexy – with just enough sparkle to keep it festive.
Still not convinced to take the plunge and go red hot? Why not try one of your favorite classic LBD silhouettes in red. Donna Karan – long the favorite of ladies who â€œlive in blackâ€ – sent a ballet top jersey dress down the DKNY runway just for you. This long-sleeved draped jersey dress will feel just like your favorite black one. You may be able to forget momentarily that you’re the Lady in Red, but no one who sees you will. Want maximum coverage? Max Mara offers a classic turtleneck sweater dress in supple medium gauge knit that will have you feeling fully covered, yet able to stop traffic in four directions with a single confident stride.
Do you miss the ruffles that reigned supreme when Valentino was king? Fear not, ruffles are still oh-so-feminine and Italian and French designers are not about to abandon them. Moschino offers a delicious dress with a tromp l’oeil pencil skirt effect, trimmed in ruffles that taper down from that all important 80’s power peplum silhouette. Alexis Carrington would be proud to see you wearing this. Want a long gown, but don’t want to hide your killer gams? Then opt for Nina Ricci‘s show-stopping ruffled skirt evening gown. Part mini-skirt, part-frock coat, this dress is ultra-modern and undeniably feminine!
If your middle initial is â€œVâ€ for â€œva-va-va-voomâ€, then opt for another Italian â€œV’ – Versace. Donatella sent out her signature style of â€œslit down to hereâ€ and â€œslit up to thereâ€ in subtle as a firetruck racing to a four-alarm fire – say it – RED! Rock it, roll it – set the place on fire! Wear this if you dare, but be sure to bring the confidence! A dress like this is not for the faint of heart. If you still want to cause a sensation without going as bare as you dare, then Oscar de la Renta is the designer for you. His draped strapless evening gown with side bow in candy apple red silk duchesse satin is simply perfection and will have the ladies who lunch licking their lips at the sheer deliciousness of it.
Short, long, covered, bare – the choice is yours, but banish the black – even if only for one night. Be as brave and bold as the color red demands. As a ginger-maned friend of mine says, â€œBlondes may have more fun, but redheads have more of everything!â€ Just make sure that includes fabric if you decide to go long. One of my favorite lines from Valentino The Last Emperor is when he decries â€œAn evening dress that reveals a woman’s ankles when she is walking is the most DISGUSTING thing I have ever seen.” Well said – Signor Garavani – well said!
1. Valentino Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
2. Andrew Gn Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
3. DKNY Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
4. MaxMara Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
5. Moschino Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
6. Nina Ricci Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
7. Versace Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
8. Oscar de la Renta Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear
Runway photos: style.com