Giambattista Valli Talks About The Past, Present And Future Of His Fashion House
Giambattista Valli has done something not many of his peers have been able to accomplish. He launched his own fashion label and turned it into a global success. The last year has brought about some major changes in Valli’s professional life. He ended his decade-long collaboration with Moncler and he decided to sell a minority stake in his company to Artemis, the investment arm of Kering’s founding Pinault family. Moves that show that Valli is more dedicated than ever to making his feminine, female-friendly fashion a staple of the industry for generations to come.
A version of this exclusive interview first apperead in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine
I have a lot of questions for you, Giamba, but before I get into all that I have always wanted to know the story of the pearls. How did a string of pearls necklace become your signature?
It came casually. Actually, I used to go often to India. I was over there and there was this piece with pearls. They were part of a big Mahajan necklace. It was a piece of jewelry made for men and I loved it. This friend, who is a jewelry designer, said to me, “Why don’t you wear pearls? This is jewelry for men” and I said that was a good idea. I put it on and it became my lucky charm and my signature.
One of the things I loved about your story is, unlike a lot of young designers today that kind of just launch their brands right away, you really took the time to learn from some amazing designers. What did you take away from the time with Roberto Capucci, the one that really formed you as designer when you launched your own label?
I think this is what I really can give as a suggestion to young designers, it is very important to experiment and to get the knowledge. I would say it is really important to train before you jump by yourself. I was very lucky to cross big masters in my life. Roberto Capucci was like my first love, some- body I can’t forget and I am never going to forget. He was the most human experience I had. I learnt from him to be respectful with women. He used to tell me, “Giambattista, never forget about women, they can potentially be mothers so you have to be respectful.” This was very beautiful and I still have it on my mind. And he was somebody who was working in such of free way with volume, shapes and colors. It was fantastic! The moment I worked for Fendi with Karl Lagerfeld was a really international experience with all the top model of runways of the moment, the glamorousness of it. Later, I arrived in Paris, a place I was not expected to land. When I arrived, I had everything to learn. I had a real creative evolution through the French culture. I had to conquer it because it was something far from my culture. I had to learn the ABC of all the characters, and all the process. Also, I discovered what we call “luxury”. Even if today it does not mean anymore what it used to mean, it is a little bit overused or abused. I prefer the word “excellence”, it is more appropriate for me right now and it is what I am passionate and obsessed by.
Then you spent time at Emanuel Ungaro, training with the founder and then taking over when he retired.
Yes, and then I left Ungaro to start my own company. I made the jump with “the net” because I had gained this important previous experience with Ungaro, Fendi and Cappuci. I did the good and bad, I had the training make the jump all by myself.
Looking back at that time, there were lot of houses and designers that were going to famous houses instead of starting their own label. But you did the opposite, you turned down the job of artistic director at Valentino and focused on your company.
At that time, I just wanted to express myself. It was like being a translator on the movie and being an actor in your movie. So I wanted to be acting in my movie and I wanted to be coherent with my ideas. Of course, any personal idea was going to be reinterpreted in another house. But I had like a very strong idea of these women, about their independence and the fact that they are not belonging to anybody, not even fashion.
It is true that one of the things that people talk about with you is that you do have a diehard group of women who have been faithful to you since the beginning. How do you generate such a fanatic loyalty to your brand?
Honestly, I enjoy doing my job and I want to show them all the happiness, that I am totally in love with them and cannot live without them. This group of girls, they are my biggest inspiration. When I am drawing, I am asking myself a lot of questions, it is like a real way of looking if it works or not in the real world. Sometimes, in other fashion houses, they miss the point of the final reality of women. Of course, we want to be in a museum one day, but right now I just want to be part of these women’s lives.
You are one of the few designers that are doing couture. How do you justify working in a field that is only open to a very small group of clients?
I have the youngest customers of couture among the houses that do couture. I started Valli in 2005 and it was few years after September 11th. There were all the conflicts, the US market was really bad. But I came out with something so different and unique and everybody jumped onto it. When I put out Haute Couture, it was the moment that everybody was saying Haute Couture was dead, that luxury didn’t not work anymore. So I came out with the idea of the Haute Couture and, you know, it is the business that generates the most traffic during the Fashion Weeks in Paris. Today, because I design couture, I am able to reach something else creatively.
You spent ten years at Moncler designing the Gamme Rouge collection on top of your ready-to-wear and your couture line. That collaboration recently ended, so what is it like now that you no longer have to deal with those extra designer deadlines?
You know I am very proud of what I accomplished at Moncler. I built the women’s wardrobe, which did not exist at all at that time. I brought these babies to a massive success. Yesterday, I had dinner with Hilary Swank, she was next to me and said, “Oh, do you remember you invited me to your first Moncler show? I didn’t even know what it was and look where it is now.”
I know that Salma Hayek is a huge fan of you. And her husband’s family, the Pinault family, invested in your company last year. How that all happened? What made you decide you wanted have a minority investor, did Salma convince you?
Actually, it came mostly from François Pinault. He had a strong interest in the label. When we met, it was like meeting an old friend, we were speaking the same language. This is extremely rare; it is so rare to find such a comprehension of the language between two people, such an education, cultural vision and lifestyle. I have known Salma for many years, I used to dress her during my time at Ungaro and she was a huge fan and great ambassador of Ungaro.
Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.
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