With ten years of haute couture, 17 years of ready to- wear, and a fan base ranging from Amal Clooney and Angelina Jolie to Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt, Italian designer Giambattista Valli is a clear favourite world over. His designs have always been experiential, eclipsing sensorial dimensions. We aren’t far from the truth when we say that he believes fashion is more than what sits on you but rather harnesses the power to feel and embody oneself. In an exclusive conversation with Alaira Tirtha Shetty for ELLE India, Valli says, “A dress is not even a dress. It’s about a concept, a philosophy, a story. The dress is part of the story, but it’s not the story. The story is about the woman wearing the dress. When you see the dress on the hanger, you want to smell, touch, and wear it. Then when you put it on, you must engage in dialogue with it.” Edited excerpts from the interview:
ELLE: How did you fall in love with the world of creativity and design?
Giambattista Valli (GBV): The obsession began from the moment I started to look at the world. My first love was for beauty, when I was five or six years old, I was just obsessed with beauty, and this transformed into the idea of fashion and creating clothes. My biggest inspiration or muse is my curiosity. Art and travel are obsessions of mine and have always been. But it can also be a moment, a gesture, a woman, an image… ultimately, everything is related to my experience of now, the present itself.
ELLE: For SS‘23, you’ve incorporated rich tones of apricot, marigold and peony in textures ranging from macramé to brocade. how do you marry so many diverse elements whilst retaining the Valli DNA throughout?
GBV: I mean, I’m almost like a writer of a book crafting different chapters of the same story. So, the story is about Giambattista Valli, the visionary. Coming to this chapter, I’m a ‘gardening’ fashion designer–I’ve always been inspired by flowers, plants, and the beauty of gardens. There were two important aspects to this collection. The first was the need for an emphasis on doing something aesthetically beautiful, just sheer beauty. Some people are afraid of beauty as a concept, but me? Not at all! The second was about combining the notion of the poetic with the very senses themselves by means of colours and silhouettes. It’s about smelling them, you almost want to bite them, to eat them—that feeling of wanting to reach out and grab the flower or fruit itself.
ELLE: You made a very interesting point about people fearing beauty. why do you think it is that way?
GBV: I think that is because, with the introspective moment brought about by Covid-19, we experienced the aspect of misery. Be that of our minds, ourselves. You must treat yourself with love and respect if you want to treat others with the same compassion. I don’t want to sell. Rather than sell clothes only to make money, I want to share clothes that inspire people for their wellness and for them to have beauty.In this respect, India has been my ‘mother teacher’ because it is a country where beauty is in every single corner. I love opposites. You turn the corner, and there’s beauty–you turn another corner, there’s another kind of beauty. It’s like you’re on the road, and there’s the scent of a motorbike in traffic, and then a minute later, there’s a temple with an incredible, fresh flower market selling jasmine and roses. It’s just amazing! I was born and brought up in Rome, where we’re surrounded by beauty, like in India, and my goal is to share this experience with others.
ELLE: The SS ‘23 collection is largely inspired by India as well…
GBV: The collection reflected a personal part of my experience, that of my time living in India, which I view as part of my culture. The north, Rajasthan, and other places in the country as well. I really feel that India is a country where my karma is best. It’s my resetting place. The last time I was in the country, I went to Jaisalmer and stayed in a hotel with an amazing garden. Jaisalmer is one of my favourites because it just feels like it’s out of another era, another atmosphere. It blows your mind–you’re i another dimension. The garden there just absorbed all my senses. The vision, the smell, the motion of the plants in the wind, the sound of the petals. I wanted to make people travel with their minds.
ELLE: Indian art plays a role as well, with your beautiful block paintings influencing the pieces.
GBV: For me, it’s the pure magic in the paintings. I’m telling you, India is the only place in the world where I believe that if I ask for the moon, I will get it. So, some of the miniature paintings are portraits, whilst the others are related to stories of the gods and mythology. I accumulate these pieces every year, and I love all the Jain art, meditative paintings, and Tantric paintings– these are all amazing. I also love the Rajasthani miniatures like the Jaipur ones, which depict gardens, landscapes, kings and queens, gods, demons, gods and demons together. It’s just so magical and inspires me. I also love the colours employed in miniatures because they mimic nature exactly–look at the green; it’s not a faded green. It’s the green of a garden that has just been touched by rainfall. The pigments are not passive; they’re alive. India has given me more lessons than one could ever imagine.
ELLE: With your clothes, I’ve noticed that they cater to a woman’s emotions first and then her physicality, which is inverse to the process of many other designers. women are frequently urged to be less emotional, yet you view this quality as a strength.
GBV: I hate it when people want to suppress the emotions of others. In my work, I bring everything related to my personal experience to the table when I’m designing a new collection. It could be emotions related to a new girl I just met, a sentence somebody said, a gesture somebody made, a fragrance… It could even be a negative emotion. A dear friend of mine once told me, ‘Don’t be afraid of something that looks ugly because if it looks ugly to you, that means it’s talking to you. So go back and discover what it is.’
ELLE: What lies ahead for Giambattista Valli?
GBV: So, it started with a dream of being a young designer doing one’s thing. Then it became an haute couture house ten years ago. The next step would be to bring the Giambattista Valli Maison to the league of established, cultural French houses for the next 100 years, even without me. The idea is to create
something eternal. Many amazing fashion houses exist today 70-80 years after their inception. The idea is to transfer my dream as a bridge from my generation to the next and to share my vision of not being afraid of beauty, almost like a lighting house in a port guiding travellers.
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