Giambattista Valli & Bianca Brandolini D’Adda: A Conversation Between Designer & Muse

“I don’t want to work in fashion; I want to work in style. It’s much more interesting.”
– Giambattista Valli

When asked what inspires him, designer Giambattista Valli starts to answer, but abruptly cuts himself off. “You know what?” he says, “the real inspiration is my experience and my friends. The inspiration is my life, and when you share life with people, it’s being inspired by the people around you.”

If the key to understanding Valli’s work is his friends, then there is no better person to start with than his longtime friend and muse Bianca Brandolini D’Adda, who has been sporting his designs since he launched his collection in 2005, following successful stints at Fendi and Emanuel Ungaro. So comfortable is Brandolini in his designs now, she says it feels like “wearing a second skin.”

Over coffee at the Bowery Hotel, alternating rapidly from French to Italian to English, the pair filled us in on their relationship and, of course, the allure of Valli’s creations.

The two first met when Bianca was just 11 years old and was sent down to greet her parents’ dinner guests, which included Valli, in her pajamas. Their friendship didn’t kick off, however, until a few years later, when Brandolini, jealous that Valli was designing clothes for her sister, confronted him. “I called him and I was like, ‘Why don’t you want to dress me? What’s your problem?’” she recalls with a laugh. “And he was like, ‘Well, you didn’t ask and you’re still at school and you’re not even allowed to go out. But it started like that.” Now, she jokes, “We always say he’s my best girlfriend and I’m his best boyfriend.”

“The thing I love about Bianca,” says Valli, “is that she is so personal; she has a personal point of view. She’s a muse in a way because many times I won’t recognize something of mine she’s wearing because she puts it together in such a personal way. This is a beautiful thing because you don’t see a fashion model; you see a style icon. Something totally different.”

Brandolini claims the credit is his: “I don’t know how he does it. It’s the only thing in my closet that I can wear many times and it always looks different and, I don’t know, classic and special. You can wear it 3 years or 10 years or the week after you get it, and it’s always timeless.”

“I don’t want to work in fashion,” explains Valli, “I want to work in style. I think it’s much more interesting. That’s probably why I’m timeless as a style. I always say my pieces are almost like meeting old friends. Every time you find a dress you forgot about, there’s that sentiment; you say, ‘Oh my god, I remember that party,’ or whatever the moment was, and you want to wear it again because you remember feeling so comfortable and so good. I love to share those moments with people.”

Venice Carnival, 2010: Bianca Brandolini d'Adda performs the Flight of the Angel in Giambattista Valli

“It’s true,” says Brandolini. “I was always wearing Giambattista for the most important moments of my life.” One such moment occurred two years ago, when she performed the “Flight of the Angel” at the 2010 Carnival of Venice. Suspended by a wire, Brandolini “flew” over thousands of revelers packed into San Marco Square while wearing—what else?—Giambattista Valli. Terrified though she was, the moment she lept off the ledge, she turned around to ask, “Is my dress okay?”

Given how close they are, it’s no surprise that Valli values Brandolini’s reaction above all others when he shows a collection. “She’s the person that stresses me the most,” he says. “What’s she going to think about it? Oh my god, is she going to like it?”

Bianca chimes in: “But I’m so stressed too, because I know he puts so much of his heart into it. And he’s freaking out, and I’m like, ‘Why is he like this? It’s so beautiful!'”

For his current collection, Valli says he was thinking about summer. “It’s about going on a holiday. Going to Africa, going to the Greek Islands, going to Spain, and mixing all these memories and all these places into a patchwork that feels fresh and spontaneous and fun.”

You can certainly feel that in his colors and prints, but there’s another element, too, that can’t be ignored: his unwavering devotion to femininity. “For me, what he does, it’s the most feminine thing,” confirms Brandolini. “When I wear his clothes, I feel like a woman—sexy and elegant.”

When asked what type of woman he designs for, Valli emphasizes that it’s someone who is “in balance with their own femininity. I love the way a woman crosses her legs, or touches her hair, the way she turns; the gesture—that is the real charm of a woman.”

As coffee comes to an end, Valli sums up his approach to fashion like this: “What I like is to have complicity with women in happy moments. They are so few and so rare, these moments, and I want to be with them. I feel so happy and privileged to do this job. I’m so joyful when I do it, and I think that the women who come to Barneys to buy a dress, they can feel the joy in the color, the pattern, the shape—they can feel it.”

1. Zebra mini dress; 2. Aztec woven wedge sandal; 3. Eyelet dress; 4. Tribal shorts; 5. Lace canvas dress; 6. Zebra dress; 7. Tweed fringe jacket; 8. Leopard-print flat

Photograph of Bianca Brandolini D’Adda and Giambattista Valli by Alexis Dahan.