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Valentino Spring Couture 2012

Oh, for the simple life! But how to reconcile its embrace with the extravagance of couture?

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli did so by infusing their couture en plein air with a soupcon of Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon. The result was a Valentino collection with a surface so lovely and gentle that it masked the lineup’s core bravado.

The designers opened with gowns in whisper-soft prints, including a shamrocks-for-luck version. These had natural waists, some fastened with bows, the bodices either strapless or long-sleeve. By day, there were pristine whites — dresses, suits, an austere cape — their decoration coming via quiet treatments such as tone-on-tone smocking, passementerie and rows of deftly crafted spirals. The influence of the ill-fated Queen percolated when Chiuri and Piccioli upped the embellishment quotient for a lavishly embroidered gown and a series of exquisite high-collared blouses worn with pants.

It all looked dreamlike and on the cusp of innocence. Yet the designers acted boldly when they opted to ignore standard red-carpet convention — curvy, sexy, sparkly — in favor of lovely discretion pushed to the point of — this isn’t a word you’ll read often in fashion copy — modesty. Talk about a way to stand out in a crowd.

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