Designers often feature a mood board backstage. Sometimes you feel they’re just for show. Other times? Well, there are insights and there are insights. Giambattista Valli’s smattering of inspirational images at his Giamba show today was small but deeply significant: outsider artist Vali Myers, with her facial tattoos; a very young Nina Hagen, when she was still a pop star in East Germany; Eva Ionesco, who sued her photographer mother, Irina, for taking pornographic photos of her as a child; notorious Parisian rake Jacques de Bascher, naked except for a harness and a bottle of poppers. Each one of them was the embodiment of a particular attitude that Valli fed into his collection. Myers’ tattoos and de Bascher’s harness, Hagen’s punkitude and Ionesco’s twisted Lolita—that was Giamba for Fall 2015. His own title for the collection was actually Instagram Lolitas, and the slight seediness of such a notion illuminated clothes that felt like an unabashed blend of sweet and decadent. Valli even had compass points: his atelier on the Left Bank, and the East Berlin of some dark fantasy (curious coincidence that girls in Berlin before the Wall came down were also a starting point for J.W. Anderson).

So there were sheer dresses of candy-colored flowers embroidered on organza, and there were black leather-backed tunics of mink. There were gilded jacquards that were clotted in their almost Klimt-ian density, and there were pure white lace shifts. But that shift was ensnared by a black leather harness. And it wasn’t alone in the weirdness of such a contrast. If there was a pretty dolly-bird trumpet sleeve, there was a sickly acid yellow fur. Valli described his obsession with flowers as “trippy,” but the lysergic nature of the collection scarcely stopped there. Was that a mountain landscape rendered in a micro-sequined georgette smock?

The designer’s postshow glee suggested he had a lot of fun with his latest outing. Maybe it was a relief after the intensity of haute couture. Or maybe it was because, as he said, “I just want to inspire girls. They may not be able to afford the clothes, but they can go and do the look, with the layered leggings and the face tattoos.” And when was the last time you heard a designer say that?

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