The topic of whether a collection is ‘fashion, or just pretty dresses?’ is one I’ve often discussed with fellow fashion geeks - those insiders for whom discerning one from the other is easy. For the sake of psychology, let’s look at it as a spectrum. Some houses, such as Elie Saab, fit squarely into ‘pretty dress’ territory, and own it. "I don't like women who take risks. Because for me, the more important thing for a woman is that she respects her femininity and her image. To be a fashion victim — for what? It's complicating life for nothing”, Mr Saab has said. And other more experimental houses - Viktor & Rolf come to mind if we’re talking haute couture - are fashion with a capital F. As someone who wore a wedding dress designed by the Dutch house to my nuptials this year, I can assure you, the Viktor & Rolf woman sometimes very well complicates her life, and certainly isn’t risk-averse.
Which brings us to Giambattista Valli, which tends to divide the crowd on this debate. His dresses are undoubtedly pretty, to the point that some naysayers would argue that his collections don’t cross the fashion threshold. I would beg to differ. Valli’s collection actually seem to perfectly embody the 80/20 rule perfectly: eighty percent classic feminine notions of beauty, represented by the swathes of tulle, bows, and romantic colors; and twenty percent of avant-garde offset, brought on by unexpected silhouettes and playing with proportions in a way that makes the average consumer say “I don’t get it”.
The most commercial designers, and Mr Valli, understand this magical 80/20 ratio, also known as the Pareto Principle, instinctually - which makes one wonder whether fashion is actually more a science than art.
Mr Saab’s statement provides a clear measure. His customer, who simply likes pretty dresses, is not a risk taker. She is a classic beauty with a conventional lifestyle and a non-combative nature. The true avant-garde fashion consumer is probably full of unpopular opinions and has likely dabbled in polygamy.
And Mr Valli’s customer? Well, she is your quintessential Alpha female. She can be fierce and she can be docile. She’s human: she has conflicting needs, yet veers towards doing the right thing. But she isn’t afraid to complicate her life, because she knows that there’s beauty in nuance. Nor does she shy away from risk, as she is keenly aware that with great risk, often comes great reward.