“If you have an idea in your mind, just allow yourself to let it out. Don’t be afraid of problems. Try to solve them because there is always a solution.”
Enigmatic and instantly overwhelming. This is Violante Valdettaro, Head of Heritage and Archive at Maison Valentino.
In this interview, held during a special lecture moderated by Tutor Francesco Brunacci at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, she expresses how the fashion house’s essence and roots have now become her lifeblood. She analyses with surgical eyes every organ of the archive. Enshrined in a delicate body, all Maison Valentino’s Heritage and Archive elements may look distant from each other. In reality, what unites them is a blood bond whose colour is the one and only: Valentino red.
by Martina Lucchesi. Cover image: Valentino Garavani’s 90th birthday, Teatro Sociale di Voghera, 2022. Courtesy Valentino.
IMF: What is your job?
VV: Now, after dealing with Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, I’m in charge of the heritage and archives of Maison Valentino. We can define the archive as a world of its own; it is an immense amount of apparently different things, but everything is clearly connected on a deeper level. Sketches, photos, videos and fabrics are the highlights. Our archive contains sixty years of fashion, from the first collection in 1959 to the present, so it grows every day. What you did yesterday becomes part of an archive.
IMF: What are you dealing with in your everyday?
VV: I’m still dealing with fashion shows – the worst! The world of fashion shows has changed over the years. People would come from around the globe to see our collection in the past, and there clearly was a mediatic side to it. Today it’s exactly the opposite; the best way to see the collection is from home because you have the opportunity to analyse everything in detail. So it is a struggle in a way because if you have many people following from home, you have a small attendance. It’s just a people match.
Fashion needs to use fashion shows as a tool to communicate.
IMF: Can you share an episode or a memory from your work that you are fond of?
VV: The memory of a campaign that will always live with me is SS 2016. The collection was African inspired, so we went to Amboseli National Park, between Kenya and Tanzania. We wanted a photographer who had a different feeling and perspective, so we chose Steve McCurry. He knew just nothing about fashion. Suddenly, there was a sandstorm; obviously, he was ecstatic, and the pictures were breathtaking.
IMF: What is the power of the Valentino Archive?
VV: I think it lies in meticulous attention to detail. It’s like an obsession because whatever is in the archive is documented in every aspect: the season a dress comes from, who wore it and what inspired it. For example: the inspiration was flowers, but what are ‘flowers’ and what kind of flowers? Tulips, daffodils, roses…the options are infinite! The world of inspiration is like a maze where it is a pleasure to lose and find yourself again.
IMF: If everything in the archive needs to be documented, can we say that archiving is like an act of love, something precious to take care of?
VV: Undoubtedly, I’m sure of that. The fact of documenting, of bringing to light the history of that garment or accessory is an act of love. It’s an act of love because it means generating a second life, bringing back something already existed before. A distinctive aspect of the archive is how past and future are just one entity.
IMF: So the next questions come naturally: how can a heritage so important, which reflects a definite identity, influence the future?
VV: Everything is connected, so even time is connected. Past, present and future live in perfect balance; they constantly feed and kill each other. The past is already influencing the future, and although it may seem absurd, the past is already influenced by the future. So, the archive and the heritage have the power to influence the future, its colours, shades, and soul.
Future, if we want to call it that.
IMF: Do you think all things in the archive (sketches, photos, fabrics…) are connected? Is there a fil rouge?
VV: There is a fil rouge. There is continuity in these sixty years of fashion, perceived and experienced through different eyes. Everyone can take something and analyse it through their lenses. Take a look at the past and you will see continuity. It’s like something in your blood.
IMF: What is the soul of the fashion house’s heritage and archive?
VV: Obviously what constantly moves the archive’s flow is research. Research is the most critical factor behind the seven thousand clothes and accessories we have there. This is the real soul of the archive.
Archives, for me, are like paradise. You see beauty, at least by my standards. How can you complain?
It’s intoxicating, and now I can’t live without it anymore.
IMF: Why does a massive archive like Valentino’s attract people?
VV: It attracts because every detail reveals the essence of the fashion house. From the inspiration to the sketches and the finished garment, you can breathe ‘THE’, not just ‘SOME’, seduction. Like it or not, Valentino seduces. It’s a fact.
On a deeper level, this ability to attract lies in the people who are the label’s soul. Every person brings a new perspective because my hand is different from yours. There is a strong feeling that comes out of everyone’s soul. We are watching something real, of course, but at the same time, so ephemeral and untouchable. Blurred.
Do you really need this skirt? No, but do you really need to dream? Yeah.
IMF: What is your vision of today’s fashion?
VV: My constant research is based on quality first.
Today’s digital and immaterial world allows us to see many things, but the real question is, ‘What is behind it? Is there quality, or is it just an image?’ It looks great to me on a superficial level, but if you look closer, it lacks essence.
IMF: Do you have any advice for a generation of young creatives?
VV: First, think well about what you really want to do.
Don’t be afraid of problems. Try and solve them because there is always a solution. If you have an idea in your mind, just allow yourself to let it out. We like a challenge, don’t we? So don’t say no to everything.
Just go ahead.
Violante Valdettaro is Head of Heritage and Archive at Maison Valentino.
Martina Lucchesi is an undergraduate student in Fashion Styling and Creative Direction at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.