pour yourself a drink and put on some lipstick
Giambattista Valli on his lipstick collection for MAC.
Giambattista Valli is a very busy, very charming man. His stunning 17th century atelier in the heart of Paris is filled with people and bouquets of pink flowers that are as big as people. As I sit on the client side of his desk among beautiful couture dresses in hot pink and orange, it feels more like being in a retrospective exhibition at the V&A than in a designer's studio. There is an atmosphere of excellence, precision and curation; I feel I have entered a very refined mind. Growing up in Rome, Giambattista (Giamba to his friends and those who have seen the Giamba Vogue video starring Lena Dunham and Jessica Biel) has a very grand, romantic vision of beauty, of women and of life. We are at the atelier the day after his couture show to talk about his collection of lipsticks for MAC but keep being interrupted by fiercely dressed, glamorous women - clients - who appear to be personal friends of the designer as well, given the warmth and closeness with which he greets them. Launching at a no-cost-spared flower ball at the Paris Opera during the couture shows, the collection is comprised of five lipsticks named after Giamba's muses: Bianca B, Tats, Margherita, Charlotte and Eugenie, and a lip gloss confidante called Lena. We asked the popular, talented man behind it all about the colour of love, real women and his signature pearl necklace.
How are you feeling after the show?
After the show, the party, everything, I feel much lighter. You know, to make all these things, [gestures to dresses] it takes so much!
How long does each piece take?
Ages. A very long time. It's ten years of hard work from me, from everybody, all the people that surround me.
The image used to promote the MAC collection is all pink roses, what does the rose symbolise for you?
For me it was the idea of fresh pink roses from Marie Antoinette's garden. So if you see the pigment on these lipsticks, it's to emphasise the freshness of something that you just picked from the garden.
And each lipstick has a different name, who did you name them after?
It's my friends, my muses, my inspiration; it's names of women. I love the idea of the reality of women.
What do you mean the reality?
The reality in women; my designs belong to real women. Some designers have a more extreme fantasy but I love the reality of women; women who are choosing love; women who are potentially sharing a life with a man next to her.
Did you grow up around very glamorous women?
No, in my family the women were inspiring more in their mental point of view, rather than in their glamour. I adore my mother, she is divine, but I'm not that kind of designer that was inspired by his mama when I was a kid!
Were you inspired by the beauty of Rome growing up there?
The eclecticism in Rome -it's very eclectic. And the atmosphere. You can have so many styles mixed together; from the Roman Empire period, to the Renaissance, to Baroque, then you have it all mixing together and everything goes, so it's really charming. Rome is extra-ordinary, but for us it's so normal. People arrive in Rome and Venice and they are shocked, but for us it is everyday beauty.
What do you find extra-ordinary? What shocks you?
It's difficult to be shocked but probably the beauty of nature. When I was in Laos, on a cruise on the Mekong river, I was like 'wow', or in Cambodia, in Angkor Wat, you see all this nature, so strong, just wow.
Why did you decide to do lipstick specifically, not eyes or skin?
Because I think the lipstick is the item that can really make a revolution to your wardrobe, to your face and to your personality.
How did you choose your colours?
These are my fetish colours, the Valli red is something so me, and so I put together the palette from pink to fusion reds, a collection of all the fabrics of the last 10 years and we were fitting pieces of fabric on the models. So I was doing the process really in the same way as haute couture, and that's why the colours in the make up are so rich, it's like a fabric.
You say a lipstick can transform a woman's look, what else do you think transforms her look?
Being in love. A woman in love is transformed, I really believe in it.
Is romance a big part of your design?
Very much. I love happy moments. I love to share happy moments with my women or like, unforgettable moments, that's why I always do these beyond extraordinary things. Mostly in haute couture, I think it's important.
Do you call yourself a feminist? What do you think the word means?
I thought it was a very useful word for women, but I think today, the word is a little bit old fashioned in a way. I think it's beautiful when women have the power of being women, so I dress women that are so powerful in their state of mind and have weight in sociology and politics, like Amal Clooney. Women today are powerful because they are women, they don't have to be 'feminist', they are just women. And they are extremely powerful.
Why do you wear the pearl necklace? Where did you get it?
I have been wearing them for 11 years. It's part of a big necklace from something that used to belong to men in India, it was a code for men, I like it very much. I was in India and I found them, a friend of mine, a jewellery designer who makes all the jewellery for the show, says to me, 'oh this really suits you, you must get them', and so I got them and it became my signature.
The new Rizzoli book about you includes pages and pages of poems written by John Galliano. Do you ever express yourself through writing?
I write, I don't write poems but I write moments, fragments, a point of view.
As fashion becomes more and more accessible, how you think couture will remain relevant to the world?
I think the industry is accessible because it's inspired by the inaccessible, so one can't live without the other one.