In this exclusive interview, Jo Linehan meets couturier Giambattista Valli in New York to talk MAC collaborations and what it really takes to dress pop icon Rihanna.
?Before you all arrived,? the waiter?whispers, ?he was darting around?the room, admiring the flowers and?enjoying the view. You can tell he’s?excited.? If I was Giambattista Valli,?I’d be elated too. The designer has any number of reasons to celebrate: the tenth birthday of his?eponymous fashion line is fast approaching; he?has a wildly successful couture house under his?name; and a new collaboration with cosmetics?giant MAC, launching this month. As I wait to’meet the designer, in a sprawling loft in the heart?of New York’s Meatpacking District, surrounded?by a selection of his signature neon pink and?orange gazar and organza gowns, I reflect on the?poignancy of this moment for the 49-year-old?Roman designer.
Valli is an authentic-looking Italian if ever I’met one; tall, slight and deeply tanned, unclean’shaven (in an effortless-but-kept way), and’dressed completely in black save for a single string?of white pearls I notice beneath his collar. He sits?to attention, ready to be grilled, but is friendly?and open with it.
Born in 1966, Valli’s road to couturier was?born of a traditional Italian upbringing and an?obsession with 1960s Italian cinema. ?There?were very few technological distractions then. It?was a very different time,? he explains. ?I would?love to look up at the ceiling in my childhood?home in Rome and sketch the lines in the?wood. I see beauty everywhere,? he admits.??To me, beauty is strength – a woman or man?who is strong, confident, bold – not afraid to’show their emotions. I don’t have a beauty?icon – beauty is found in all of those?things,? he tells me in his European’trill. The notion of la dolce vita? has?an unmistakable influence on his?collections – all elongated waists and screen siren silhouettes, techniques?that were first learned while studying?at the Istituto Europeo di Design?of Rome and later at Central Saint?Martins College of Art and Design in?London. He perfected his craft under?the influence of fashion impresarios?Roberto Capucci and Emanuel Ungaro?before launching his own line in 2005.?Haute couture followed six years later,?and both lines have gone from strength?to strength. Today Valli is adored by’such design-discerning celebrities as?Amal Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker,?Olivia Palermo and Princess Charlotte?of Monaco, not to mention the?VIP couture set, with whom his name?is golden.
Behind him stands the now?famous bubblegum pink creation?worn by Rihanna at last February’s?Grammy Awards. ?I love Rihanna,??he smiles. ?That collaboration was?all her. The gown had literally just’stepped out onto the catwalk when’she called my team and told them’she had to wear it. She is so bold, so daring,’so unafraid. And it was an unexpected choice?of outfit from her at that time – that’s why?I love her. She is the Giamba woman, for sure.?
At a moment when his brand is?gathering such immense global?acclaim, why this collaboration?with MAC? The market is drenched?with designer affiliations and,?with at least four collections a year to produce,’surely he has more than enough creative stimuli???Working in what I do, I dream of dressing every?woman. What better way than dressing their lips?in Giambattista Valli? MAC and I, we have been?on this journey together with my label for ten?years! They have created the make-up?look at every one of my show’s from the?beginning. We wanted to celebrate?the anniversary with something very’special. Something worth collecting?and keeping.??The lipsticks themselves are a?perfect medley; from the carefully’designed, gently rounded bullet shape,?to the intensely pigmented shades of?blood orange, cerise pink, burgundy’red and deep plum. This is a collection’that fashion lovers will covet (what?woman doesn’t want to own a piece?of Giambattista Valli?), and one that’make-up lovers will adore for its sheer?gorgeousness. A clear gloss is also?available, updating the matte finish to?a slick lacquer – a clever extra.
?When?I design collections, I always think?globally. These lipsticks are different;?they are made to suit everyone, but?they’re graphic and they’ll challenge?anyone who wears them to experiment?a little bit.? He is tight-lipped about?how he’ll celebrate the house’s tenth?birthday, but hints at a blowout?party with MAC later this year. In?between New York, Italy and his base?in Paris, he longs for the Amalfi coast,??where I love everything to just stop.?I am always inspired, always creating,?and it can be overwhelming. In Paris,?I live far away from my studio, and?I need that separation between my?private life and my professional life.?When I go home and I’m alone, I love?to sketch. That’s where I decide what?the next story for Valli will be.??We can’t wait for him to tell it.