“That was Venice, the obsequious and untrustworthy beauty—this city, half fairy tale, half tourist trap, in whose reeking atmosphere art had once extravagantly luxuriated, and which had inspired composers with music that gently rock you and meretriciously lulls you to rest. The adventurer felt as if his eyes were drinking in this luxuriance, as if his ears were being wooed by these melodies; he also recollected that the city was sick and was disguising the fact so it could go on making money; and he was more unbridled as he watched for the gondola that glided ahead of him.”
Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella takes place in early 20th century Venice amid a cholera outbreak. I remembered this waiting for the Valentino couture show to begin this Thursday. At the shows in Paris, you could overhear hushed predictions of which cities in Europe would be first to go back into lockdown, and how soon. But like Mann’s hero, Gustav von Aschenbach, the glitterati couldn’t deprive themselves of Venice, with its couture itineraries rumoured to budget more time for lunches at Cipriani than for visiting the expansive architecture biennale currently on view.
The Valentino show starts with a message for the audience from artist Giuseppe Penone: “Listen to yourself. Listen to the planet. Listen to the water. Listen to humanity.”
I can’t help but sense that Venice has everything that was missing in Paris. Watching Valentino delivers the drama and emotion I craved all last week. Pierpaolo Piccioli’s clothes are a masterclass in how to reference mid-century couture while transcending the pastiche. The show itself is a lesson in color theory: on the runway closing the show is Rianne, modelling a stunning red ensemble – proving that redheads can wear the color – accented with brush stroke artwork by Jamie Nares (who happens to be my godmother’s ex). When couture season ended in Paris I felt unresolved, but Valentino’s climactic finale gets me there – at least for a minute. The show is a convenient escape, but one we also can’t quite afford if we’re serious about listening to the planet and water, as Penone asks us to do.