Exploring the Temple of Haute Couture: Maison Valentino Archive

On a sunny Roman spring day, the fashion explorers of Istituto Marangoni Firenze had the opportunity to have a first-hand experience of the heritage of Maison Valentino. This article uncovers every step of the way: the adventure’s down there!


by Jonathan Paonetti & Giulia Piceni. Cover image courtesy of Valentino.

Almost unnoticed by the average tourist, an incredibly precious treasure is preserved for a few lucky ones right under the walking ground of Piazza Mignanelli in Rome. On the square’s main building, a small “V” can be easily overlooked among the façade’s Baroque ornaments, yet it reveals the style hegemony of the Emperor of Fashion: Valentino.
On the quest to discover his underground archive, a selected group of Istituto Marangoni Firenze students were charmed by the incredible heritage that they came across. A source of inspiration for designers and other creatives, the visit was orchestrated by the lifelong Valentino collaborator and Historical Archive Coordinator Violante Valdettaro, who showed the visitors the way into the Temple of Couture. 


From the ancient times when wealthy matrons inhabited the streets of Rome to the more recent Oscar-winning movie by Sorrentino, The Great Beauty (2013), the word bellezza has described the very essence of the Eternal City. The work of Maison Valentino, a brand founded in 1960 by Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti, fully embodies this Beauty.
Valentino’s undisputed talent has enchanted the most influential people in the world since then. In 2008, after 45 years of career, he decided to say goodbye to the fashion world and was succeeded by Pierpaolo Piccioli, sole Creative Director from 2016. As such, Piccioli has reinterpreted the eternal elegance displayed in the Archive in a new, contemporary way.


As they got to Palazzo Mignanelli, a stone’s throw from Piazza di Spagna, the students were welcomed into an inner courtyard by Historical Archive Coordinator Violante Valdettaro, Tutor and Journalist Francesco Brunacci, and a huge sculpture by Igor Mitoraj, which defines the building.

Courtesy of Valentino.

From there, Valdettaro escorted the lucky visitors from Istituto Marangoni Firenze into the basement of Palazzo Mignanelli, the headquarters of the Roman fashion institution.
Right under the floor of the next-door palace, in a white aseptic environment with candid walls and furniture teeming with ideas from the past, the Valentino Archive looked like the ultimate fashion White Cube: an eternal source of inspiration for creatives right at the heart of the Eternal City.

Courtesy of Valentino.


An Arlequin-inspired dress on the left of the Archive’s entrance welcomed the students into the Valentino Wunderkammer. In contrast, huge white wardrobes occupied almost the entirety of the space, full of awe-inspiring pieces from the past. 

Courtesy of Valentino.

Moving on to the entrance, on a large table, a series of binders containing Valentino Garavani’s sketches dating from 1959 captured the soul of the historical period when he was creating his collections.
From the sketch for Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress with Aristotele Onassis in 1968 to the iconic last red dresses, the beauty and precision in his drawings clearly left the students gawping with amazement. 


From ideas to creations: the clothes shown for the occasion by the archivist Valdettaro materialised the Maison’s past and present, the contemporary spirit of Garavani’s works and the continuous references to his ideas by Pierpaolo Piccioli. A modern attitude and the tradition of haute couture merged in that timeless venue, right between two fashion egomaniacal eras.

Ranging from the cape evoking the Colosseum’s arches to the Fabergé-inspired gown, princess heels and finely detailed accessories, the collection includes the red dress worn by Lady Gaga for the Maison’s “Voce Viva” perfume commercial, as well as the iconic red dress that closed Garavani’s final runway in 2008. 


After this incredible archival adventure and the discovery of fashion treasures, the students walked up the same stairs previously used to reach the archive. They returned to Piazza Mignanelli, aware of the honour they had to see the masterpieces of one of the world’s leading fashion houses up close.
From the stories narrated by the archivist to the technical information capable of helping students in their careers, the visit was a real leap into an idyllic world hidden behind the Temple’s walls.

Jonathan Paonetti is a Postgraduate Arts Management Master student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze
Giulia Piceni is an Undergraduate student in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze

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