There are moments of surprise in every fashion season. Sometimes those moments are shocking with blatant sexuality or styles that border on being inappropriate, such as Marc Jacob’s topless model last season. What we experienced this morning with Giambattista Valli’s fall/winter 2014 collection was exactly the opposite. For a designer especially known for presenting ensembles dripping with sexuality, this collection was not merely conservative, but at times almost prudish.

When the first look came down the runway, a black and white textured print dress with a high collar and turtle neck going all the way to the chin, we knew this was going to be a very different collection. When Valli continued that look, though, with similar prints, all black and white, all high necklines and voluminous skirts, we started seeing some concerned looks on the front row, and a lot of scribbling in notepads on the part of buyers. There were large folds in place of pleats and we’d yet to see a single ruffle. And what was up with all this texture? Where was the tulle and chiffon?

A sigh of relief was short lived as the black and white gave way to navy blue, with sheer sleeves, but the anxiety soon returned when even though the palette turned to a beautiful rose pink the heavy textured materials and conservative silhouettes continued. Valli does manage to keep the looks interesting with laser cut petal lace, but again, all that texture even with a soft fabric such as silk is still well short of the blatant sexiness we’re accustomed to seeing from the label. A pink dress with a very large rose print even comes with large, rounded shoulders and a near-tunic shape; the effect was that the dress looked more like a bottle of nice-smelling skin lotion. You know, the kind your grandmother has sitting on her vanity.

That large-shouldered look happens surprisingly often, especially with coats, never failing to minimize any sense of feminity accept for its color. Only toward the end of the collection do we finally see some laser-cut lace tops, without the petal effect, that border, just a little bit, on being sexy and hinting at a touch of sheer.

As jaws dropped open at this drastic change in direction, the benefit is that this is finally a collection that one can wear in the Midwest without worrying about getting arrested. In fact, while the looks are still young-adult oriented, these are pieces one can wear to church or out to lunch with your grandparents without them likely being embarrassed. Okay, the skirts might still be a little short for some people, but again, compared to what we usually see from Valli and with the very careful tailoring he gives them  I think one is likely to be safe.

Whether this is a complete change in philosophy or just playing around on the opposite side of the spectrum, I can’t say. Astonishment might have kept some from realizing just how well designed and wearable this collection is. If anything, I would expect Valli to draw in a wider audience this fall than he has with previous collections.

Still, there was one young woman who commented as she left the show, “I want my sexy Valli back.”

We’ll have to see what happens next season.

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