A Tale of Contrasting Fortunes for Both Heritages
The tale of two Valentino’s is – in classical Italian fashion – a dramatic and frequently fiery affair. If not a story of warring families, then certainly of contrasting approaches, with dips and piques of fortune, masked identity, heroes and villains alike clothed in finest cloth and leather, supported by a cast of young and beautiful characters against the backdrop of the highly competitive fashion industry.
Two central characters: Mario Valentino – the [perhaps wrongly] perceived villain of the story. Creator of quality leather bags and clothing since the 1950s who became a celebrity favourite in the 60s and worked with up-and-coming designers and photographers in the 80s to enhance a solid reputation.
And the master: Valentino Garavani – the acknowledged darling of fashion week since the sixties; the beautifier of women, the most French of Italian designers, who looks down on the ‘other’ Valentino with a degree of disdain and frustration.
Certainly Valentino Garavani can lay claim to being the most famous and relevant of the two brands heading deep into the 21st Century. Current designer Pierpaolo Piccioli has embraced the marquee’s reputation for uptown elegance and fused it to an edgier silhouette. Still relaxed, still roomy, but with downtown dynamics and easy time on its mind.
Mario Valentino doesn’t exist in the same stratosphere. Its concerns are almost exclusively with leather (or faux leather) goods, and its current reputation rests on quality-constructed bags that retail at downtown/premium prices for those who want a look without a cost.
How they are different
They are very different indeed. By way of comparison, a Valentino Garavani Roman stud the shoulder bag in Nappa is yours for £2,100. Don’t expect to be paying these kinds of prices (and Valentino Garavani bags go much higher still) for edgy style experiments. You’re purchasing elegance with a certain Gaelic ease. Valentino Garavani are your Louis Vuitton alternative, or what you settle for if a second-hand Hermes cannot be justified. In short, this is as good as luxury gets before it leaves on a couture-bound jet.
Mario Valentino bags are a premium affair that trade on leather or vegan polyurethane in bold colours and ‘designer’-aspiring looks. By way of example, the Red Elfo Shoulder bag is a lovely Michael Kors alternative that wears its bright red Italian heritage all over.
Valentino Garavani’s SpikeMe Nappa clutch is a padded delight at £1,550. The MV clutch appears more intent on hitting the same clubs that Love Moschino frequents. And why not at a price shy of £100?
Elsewhere with Valentino Garavani, simplicity reigns supreme. The Valentino Garavani Small Rock stud Hobo bag exemplifies an approach to design, short only of the more formal couture pieces that emphasizes simplicity, quality materials (a textured leather finish and silver hardware) as opposed to superfluous adages, a myriad of pockets and flaps or eccentric and culture referencing prints.
The Valentino Garavani Round Bag 03 Rose Edition is the label’s concession to visual experimentation. Flowers have been a longstanding focus, consolidating and freeing the romantic idealism that is more modern or sexualised in many of the more daring European concerns.
A Mario Valentino Doxy woven backpack is somewhat imitative of the classier Italian statement for simple texture and bold lux colours, in materials at a price to suit and a design that doesn’t illuminate the room. Or the Mario Valentino Doxy Woven Briefcase, which is actually a punchy, pretty and summery carry-all, again in non-leather materials that don’t sing to a luxury tune (although it is better for the environment and animal kingdom).
Clearly Mario Valentino’s current legacy has been hit by its comparison with the superior luxury brands name. What’s more, a legal battle currently ensues between the two: Garavani claiming [with some justification] that Mario Valentino has unethically traded off the Valentino name with products and logos that mislead and confuse.
To calm things down a little, it’s important to note that imitation and creative use of other brands’ name and reputation is a fairly common fashion practice. Not saying it’s right, but the current boom in fake goods speaks of a generation of consumers who want ‘the look’ without the exorbitant cost, whilst current darling of the athleisure world Virgil Abloh had a less than auspicious start trading Off-White under the name Pyrex Vision. What nobody mentions that in Paris if they want to get invited anywhere.
MVs bigger problem in recent years has actually been its tendency [again not unique amongst Premium brands with global reach, Michael Kors being an example] to creatively copy the look of luxury brands like Celine.
Popularity is a rather misleading reference point in the fashion world. It can refer to a brand’s ubiquity; to the extent to which the whole world (especially the traditional high street) have latched onto a particular style or trend, and are wearing it (out!) with increasingly diminishing returns.
The classic light brown and tan Louis Vuitton bag is a case in point: no longer an art piece, the brand somewhat manoeuvred itself away from this standard/luxury symbol into more adventurous territories (although it still sells like hot cakes), whilst the Burberry check, its 2000’s calling card, became a burden it no longer wished to bear.
Valentino Garavani avoids fashion clichés and over-exposure largely because of its mandate for elegant upscale simplicity. It is a look the stylish will wear, but that their kids will ignore, owing to an (intentional) lack of both web-baiting pizazz and extravagant logos. In short, Valentino Garavani is a brand that is popular amongst those for whom simple style is the primary concern.
Perhaps surprisingly, Mario Valentino also goes somewhat under the radar in fashion circles. Some of the aforementioned reasons account for this, including that long-raging battle with its upscale namesake. But also, because the MV look is relatively conservative – trading on quality construction and materials, choosing to imitate the season’s trends rather than push forward in the culture arena – and because of its relatively to profile compared to other premium labels like Coach, Michael Kors or Love Moschino, you’ll find it a choice that retains a certain novelty factor. At prices that encourage a move away from your usual premium picks, this is a win-win situation. If only the two warring Valentino’s could see it such.