Italy's king of couture has social media all sewn up
Rihanna or Amal Clooney? Giambattista Valli gladly acknowledges his debt to both of them.
But the Italian has no intention of saying which of his celebrity clients has done most to raise his burgeoning reputation as the go-to designer of choice for some of the world's leading fashion icons.
The thigh-flashing, drop-hemmed mini-dress with which the new Mrs Clooney wowed the crowds on her wedding weekend in Venice a year ago?
Or the pink silk and tulle gown that Rihanna wore to the Grammys in February and was so big that the pop star had to be given three seats to herself to fit it in?
Both were Valli creations. Both "broke" the Internet, generating huge surges in interest in the couturier and his craft.
The Rihanna creation in particular was credited with giving the rarefied world of haute couture a contemporary relevance it has rarely, if ever, enjoyed.
All the evidence seems to point to Valli having a deft instinct for how to thrive in the new social media landscape.
But he insists there has been no promotional master-plan at play over the last 12 months.
As he tells it, he just loves women of all shapes, sizes and social backgrounds.
And from "Girls" creator Lena Dunham to Jackie Kennedy's 82-year-old sister, the socialite Lee Radziwill who is one of his best friends, it seems many of them love him back.
"All the women who wear my clothes were really passionate to wear them. There is no contract," the Rome-born, Paris-based designer told AFP.
"They just do it because they love them and I think this is one of the most successful things. They just choose to wear them."
- Amazing beauty -
Having created gowns for the likes of Penelope Cruz and Nathalie Portman and made the dress in which Jessica Biel married Justin Timberlake in 2012, Valli had, at this time last year, already established himself as a red carpet regular.
The extravagant Clooney nuptials in Venice made him a potential contender to become the ruler of that exclusive world.
Looking back, he says most of the credit should go to the willowy, Lebanese-born Mrs Clooney.
"I can say that Amal is physically a beauty that really suits Valli in an amazing way. It really is a fantastic combination," he said in an interview after the launch of his latest collection for Giamba, the youthful line he presents as a feisty younger sister to his couture and ready-to-wear work.
Quickly though, he qualifies his comment, emphasising that his fascination with a woman does not depend on her having a clothes-horse physique.
"I love women that have beautiful minds -- you know, brains.
"I am not very physical. It is a point of view. It is the philosophy of these women. They have the power of the mind."
Valli says his own restless mind draws him towards constantly seeking to do the opposite of what is expected.
"So Rihanna wearing the ballgown for something that was very pop and in such an effortless way -- everything was so surprising," he said, beaming with pleasure at the memory.
Rihanna's Grammy appearance and her subsequent admission that she had sourced the gown herself by browsing the Internet opened up a new audience for the designer.
But he cannot - or will not - attempt to quantify what that means for a business he has built himself without the kind of conglomerate backing that has become standard at his cost-intensive end of the fashion business.
"More than on the business side, it has been an enormous support for the knowledge of the name and the style in every single level around the world," he says.
- 'Half-French' -
Educated in Rome and London, Valli is based in Paris, where he shows his couture and ready-to-wear collections.
"If it wasn't for France I would not be where I am, so I always say I am half French even if I am 100 percent Italian," he says.
He opted for Milan as the base for the Giamba line mainly because of the challenging logistics of presenting three shows in one Paris fashion week.
His latest collection takes the line in a new, edgier direction with his baby doll dresses featuring studded waist bands and Americana-themed outfits such as a striped hotpants paired with a sleeveless denim jacket.
Giamba, according to Valli, is inspired by notions of all-girl parties. "There are some girls that are just Giamba, some that are just Giambattista Valli. Some are both -- like Rihanna.
"They are all precious to me, precious," he says of the women in his life. "Even the unknown women who goes to my boutique just to look at the things without buying, or the students helping me to do this show. Everyone who shares a moment with me is precious."
© 2015 AFP