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Jul 05, 2023

How Giambattista Valli became Giambattista Valli

What is a dress without a woman wearing it? This reflection has become almost a statement for Giambattista Valli. Who knows the answer well: “an empty house.”

A portrait of Giambattista Valli © Courtesy Giambattista Valli

A portrait of Giambattista Valli © Courtesy Giambattista Valli

For the Roman designer, hailed as ‘the most French of Italian couturiers in Paris,’ clients help define his wardrobe. “I do half the work; the other half is about their interpretation,” he said with a broad smile while talking to the students at Istituto Marangoni Paris.

Giambattista Valli is the new mentor of the school’s BA Fashion Design programme, and, as part of this partnership, he guides the students in creating their projects. 

Giambattista Valli at Istituto Marangoni Paris 

Giambattista Valli at Istituto Marangoni Paris

“In life, you need talent, vision, but also a pinch of luck,” said the Roman couturier. And these three elements have come together perfectly in his path. Yes, even a bit of luck. Or at least that’s what he said, explaining why. “In 2005, I launched my first collection in Paris, and three months later, Angelina Jolie wore some of my creations. Notably, a dress covered in feathers had a special role as ‘the affair dress’ since the American actress wore it while flirting with Brad Pitt, whom she had recently met on set when filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith. 

Angelina Jolie’s choice was a big deal for Giambattista Valli and paved the way for an immediate rise to stardom. But things never happen by chance, no matter what people say. Behind his success, there have been years of hard work. After studying in Rome, Giambattista Valli attended fashion school in London and, at the age of 20, he took part in his first photo shoot for Vogue. At 21, he found himself in the atelier of the great Roberto Capucci, where he learnt “absolute respect for the people the clothes are made for and an obsession with volume, definitely a very Roman thing.” Three years later, after assisting the master designer in his last fashion show, he moved to Fendi. He was later appointed artistic director at Ungaro in Paris, where he spent seven years. He left precisely when the French Maison was at its peak. The urge to give his creativity an independent voice was too strong for him to resist. In 2005, he established his ready-to-wear brand. “You have to believe in it, jump in, leave no room for doubt. You don’t have to look back, at least for the first 10 years. It can be terrifying, but it’s worth it. The secret is to have confidence and stay true to yourself,” he said at Istituto Marangoni in Paris while standing and looking the students straight in their eyes.  

June 2011 marked a new milestone in his career: Valli presented his first Haute Couture collection and became an official Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture member. It was like a consecration. But Valli’s journey did not stop there: in 2014, he launched Giamba, a “younger” line. And he continued exploring different stylistic languages at Moncler Gamme Rouge, where he took over as creative director from 2008 to 2017, opening up new horizons for the brand’s iconic down jackets. These new paths led him to international recognition: he won the Star Honoré award from Fashion Group International in 2011 in New York and Best Designer of the Year awards from Elle China in 2013 and Marie Claire Spain in 2015. The list of celebrities who have worn his dresses on the red carpet has also lengthened over the years. After Angelina Jolie, it has included Amal Clooney, Rihanna, Queen Rania of Jordan, Ariana Grande, Kendall Jenner, Gwyneth Paltrow and more. “There is only a very short list of women I haven’t dressed yet,” Valli said almost in a whisper, then raised his voice, stating, “But what I am interested in when it comes to a woman is not so much her beauty, fame or age, but her soul. For example, I would like to dress Meryl Streep because she has a beautiful mind.” His icons include the sculptress Louise Bourgeois, Jeanne Moreau for her boldness and jolie-laide (beautiful ugly) allure, and Jane Birkin for her freshness.

Similarly, the trio of designers he mentioned as a source of inspiration is anything but ordinary: Yves Saint Laurent, Halston and Walter Albini. “I always admired them for their lifestyle, the hedonism they expressed in their private lives, their free spirits.” But the word ‘muse’ has no meaning for him: “My only muse is curiosity,” Valli explained. 

The stories Valli narrates with his fashion have also found a supporter in Lily Collins in the Netflix cult series Emily in Paris. “It was a surprise to see her in one of my dresses,” he stated. “The production never asked me; I discovered it just like everyone else, simply watching an episode.” Spoiler: Emily wore a vaporous red tulle dress from the collection designed by Giambattista Valli for H&M. If you’re wondering, the designer also created a stunning capsule for the fast fashion giant with a spirit that was anything but relaxed. “I worked on it with the same values that inspire all my work. What I did was a way to approach the new generations and give everyone a chance to enter the dream.”  

And it is not surprising that his collection ranks in the top 3 of those created by big fashion names in terms of sales. After all, when the spirit of Paris meets the sun of Rome, the result is nothing but fascinating. “I try to bring these two opposites together. Rome, which is exuberant and Fellini-esque, and Paris, a city that is introverted and at the same time free, with no limits.”

For young people venturing into the fashion world, Giambattista Valli’s path can be a source of inspiration. He gave Istituto Marangoni students a powerful lesson as he reflected on his passion: “When I opened my Maison de couture, my experience was my initial safety net. You have to build a culture, give yourself time to settle knowledge and be patient and persistent. Define your brand ethos, and leave room for ideas before thinking about business. Trust your intuition. And then don’t wait too long and throw yourself into the experience.”



Silvia Manzoni
Journalist and Beauty Expert