PARIS — “To be called pioneers for what we have done — and at our age!” says Giancarlo Giammetti, referring to the opening this week of the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum.
A legion of models in the designer’s signature “Valentino red” act as an online teaser for a downloadable desktop application athttp://valentino-garavani-archives.org. It was designed to go live during a news conference being given by Mr. Giammetti and Mr. Garavani, longtime partners both in their late 70s. The news conference will be live-streamed from New York on Monday.
Instead of the static exhibitions in brick-and-mortar museums so familiar to fashion icons, the Valentino duo has used immersive 3-D technology to present archives spanning 50 years, including nearly 100 fashion shows on video, 5,000 dresses, the original working sketches from the designer’s hand and photographs of the clothes, the celebrities who wore them and a vision of the world of Valentino.
“It is the first time there as been a virtual fashion museum — and people can interact,” says Mr. Giammetti, explaining the concept of digital “master classes” with Valentino and himself, as well as fresh interactive concepts to be introduced every eight weeks.
The design has been done in partnership with Novacom Associés, a Paris agency specializing in interactive marketing; and with Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda, the design partnership that created the Valentino exhibition at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis in Rome in 2007 — and also the private museum on Valentino’s estate in his Wideville chateau outside Paris.
The idea is to open up the archives, with the online facilities offering unlimited possibilities for interconnections and cross-references. A key outfit can thus be seen up close in intimate detail in 3-D, with explanations of its cut and craftsmanship, as well as when and where it was first shown and who subsequently wore it. Typical examples would be the gown created for Elizabeth Taylor for the Hollywood premiere of “Spartacus” or the bridal dress of Jacqueline Kennedy for her marriage to Aristotle Onassis in 1968.
The significance of the initiative is twofold: It brings the history of Valentino (who retired from the house that bears his name in 2008) to the wired generation in the language of YouTube and Facebook. And it gives the designer a fashion afterlife in which he and Mr. Giammetti are totally in control, though the reality is that the Valentino brand has continued with a new chief executive officer and design duo.
Significantly, there is no external curator for the Web project. In a classic museum exhibition, there might have been a different interpretation of the legacy or the clothes could have been put in the context of other Italian designers.
Mr. Giammetti, so long in control of the house of Valentino, has thus created a virtual immortality and a chosen place in fashion history.
For students — and for historians — the result is a generous offering that comes from a nonprofit association and makes the archive globally available. It is also a shot across the bows of classic museums that increasingly see fashion as a crowd pleaser and money spinner. For example, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” a paying exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this year, had a record and lucrative attendance; and at any given time exhibitions from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, such as the hat show of milliner Stephen Jones, are touring.
When contacted on this subject, museum curators refrained from commenting, until they had seen the online archives after the launch this week.
The Valentino project will surely be studied by other brands looking to control a heritage. This year, Gucci opened its own private brick-and-mortar museum: in fact, a magnificent ancient stone edifice in the historical heart of Florence, where a selected history of Gucci is offered to a paying public by the Italian brand.
“But we don’t want Valentino to be just from the past,” Mr. Giammetti says of his project. “We want something alive for the future.