Valentino's couture show was a milestone in the curious time line of society. Down the front row, beyond the predictably polished A-listers (Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Hurley, and Claire Danes among them), there was a whole pack of birds that made it clear that the swan was no longer a relevant species. No, for this new social strain of excitable, sexually liberated women — almost all of whom are young and single — a swan isn't appropriate. This is a more vibrant species, with longer legs and fuller wingspans, full of life and stamina and color. These are flamingos.
Chair after chair was occupied by an artfully disheveled yet primly pressed young face, at least a dozen in total, some less familiar than others, who compose this new set: Bianca and Coco Brandolini d'Adda, Gaia Repossi, Margherita Missoni, Eugénie Niarchos, Charlotte Dellal, Delfina Delettrez Fendi, Shala Monroque, and Caroline Sieber.
According to Valentino creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, their specific presence was requested because "these are the women who incarnate youthful chic and elegance with a twist."
"You know these girls will deliver," says Tommy Ton, the street-style shutterbug who admitted that, along with Chanel, the Valentino show was his most productive of the couture season. Whereas traditional paparazzi of generations past would have been looking for a New York socialite or a Hollywood leading lady to snap, Ton and his blogger posse seek this stratum of girls. "I have the eyes of a hawk in order to spot these girls before they've entered the zone," he laughs, adding that in the case of Monroque he has even developed a special "Sha-dar" detection system. "That's hardcore for ya!"
The concept of a socialite gang is an enduring phenomenon. From New York's La Côte Basque to Studio 54 to today's fashion shows, we've seen women set trends and social standards for generations. Truman Capote's swans were Babe Paley, Slim Keith, C.Z. Guest, and Lee Radziwill. A decade later, Studio 54 ushered in a new posse headed by the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and Bianca Jagger. Nan Kempner, Pat Buckley, and Lynn Wyatt reigned in the '80s. While the Lauder and Boardman sisters ran New York's soiree circuit in the '90s, things got a little dicey in the early aughties when the proverbial silver spoon got into the well-manicured hands of self-branded divas molded by the likes of Paris Hilton.
The appearance of this new flock en masse doesn't denote merely a changing of the guard, however. This is a whole new social species, with some members even blood related, most already well established and tabloid fodder in Paris, and all familiar and (barring one or two exceptions) genuinely friendly with one another. Continuing in a tradition of the Euro-flash cliques before them — almost a second coming of Yves Saint Laurent's close-knit entourage of Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, Marisa Berenson, and Paloma Picasso — this new society presently dominates the scene. We haven't seen a tight-knit group like this one since the Miller sisters invaded Europe and began marrying its princes in the '90s.
Many of the members of this new social set, like the Brandolini sisters (Bianca is an actress, and Coco is a fashion consultant), jewelry designers Repossi and Delettrez Fendi, family-brand ambassador Missoni, and fashion stylist Giovanna Battaglia, are proud Italians, so it comes as no surprise that Rome-born, Paris-based fashion designer Giambattista Valli is the unofficial ringleader. It's a role he's happy to assert. "We started this movement at my very first shows. I wanted to bring a certain freshness to the front row, so I invited all my young friends," Valli says now, championing his godfather status. "Since then, they've become the It girls at all the défilés!"
It's a way of life for these Italian women in Paris, mixing their native va-va-voom with a special blend of French chic or, as Valli describes it, "Italian spontaneous attitude mixed with French couture. Caviar et T-shirt! Pizza et haute couture! They are part of a generation regaining its femininity. They have turned the proportions of their mothers' couture gowns into party dresses."
Not that this new guard is limited to France's eastern neighbor. Sieber, a fashion stylist, is Austrian; Dellal, who is the founder and face of the successful shoe company Charlotte Olympia, grew up in London, as did Sophia Hesketh, Lord Hesketh's fashion-stylist daughter; Julia Restoin Roitfeld, an art director, and Joséphine de La Baume, a singer and actress, were both born and raised in Paris. The Eastern bloc is represented by supermodel Natalia Vodianova, who is seen in the front row more than she is on the catwalk these days, and art-world power player Dasha Zhukova. And this gang's tentacles reach across the Atlantic too: There's Colombian heiress Tatiana Santo Domingo; Brazil's Alexia Niedzielski, a photo editor; and fashion editors Lauren Santo Domingo and Monroque, both of whom reside in New York City.
Historically speaking, we've seen the girl-about-town silhouette vacillate between the American socialite's version of specific, pin-tucked chic and a Parisian rock star's rendering of loose and bohemian. This summer, Chanel dominated this Parisian dishevelment with the likes of Lou Doillon, Clémence Poésy, and Joana Preiss looking sultry and smoky in their front-row seats. But this new set has cultivated its own mixture of both these aesthetics: Clothes are luxe and tailored, and the behavior is ladylike, but the overall look isn't nearly as constricted, conservative, or contrived as that of its forebearers.
Not that these girls are completely monogamous with their Valentino and Valli wardrobes. To this Italian flash, these women splice in French class. Repossi is devoted to Céline, Niarchos and Zhukova are personal friends of Riccardo Tisci and love his Givenchy designs, and Sieber admits that she finds herself in something from Chanel every day. Some girls are even more adventurous: Monroque has been known to work colorful vintage Prada and modern-day Miu Miu pieces into her wardrobe, and Lauren Santo Domingo is happy to wave the American fashion flag with wares from Proenza Schouler and Joseph Altuzarra.
While each girl has her own particular look—Dellal says she's "always been nostalgic for the old glamour of the '30s and '40s," Bianca Brandolini hardly ever covers her long legs, and Repossi says that from her Italian roots she appreciates her "tan in the summer and the confidence to wear strong outfits" — the common theme is a look that is both studied and casual, full of both class and chaos. Somehow it seems these girls are nonchalant and graceful and tousled all at the same time.
Hanneli Mustaparta, another street-style photographer who captured the couture shows, acknowledges their aesthetic: "A few years ago, you weren't supposed to look like you tried to look good, whereas now I feel like it's more accepted to show you actually made an effort, just as long as you don't look like you're trying too hard." Echoes Sieber, "There should be an edge to keep things interesting. For me, elegance is more about the way you carry yourself, but you are definitely on the right track if you manage to look both messy and chic at the same time."
Translation: Don't get a blowout if you're wearing an evening gown, but be sure to have a fresh manicure if you're wearing ripped jeans and an ankle boot. "Red lips and red nails help me out on a lazy day," Dellal says, smiling.
Chanel ambassador Sieber says that when she wears Karl Lagerfeld's designs, she balances out the look with tousled locks and distressed leather. These girls wear real diamonds during the day and aren't afraid to work a thigh-grazing hemline at a black-tie gala. Emilio Pucci's Peter Dundas says this is the type of woman he wants at his shows. "They embody the new generation of jet set," he says, "and having them at a show is inspiring to any designer." Dundas says that girls like Bianca Brandolini d'Adda, Restoin Roitfeld, and Missoni "really appreciate elaborate pieces but make them their own with a belt or a head scarf or a piece of jewelry they picked up on an exotic trip. Sometimes it's as simple as a flat shoe with a beaded gown."
A few hours after Chiuri and Piccioli presented their Valentino couture show on the Place Vendôme, Mr. Valentino himself welcomed the designers and their guests — both that celebrity-studded front row and this new crew of well-to-do young women — to Wideville, his chateau outside Paris, for a party to celebrate the new gallery on his property, which will display his archive of drawings, photographs, and designs. It was one of the first times this tidal wave of stylish young women crashed, in its entirety, into its societal predecessors with such aplomb.
Princess Firyal of Jordan and Lee Radziwill were there, as were Dellal's mother, Andrea (a beautiful Brazilian model turned London social figure), and the Brandolini sisters' matriarch, Georgina (a countess whose career in fashion involved working with Valentino and Oscar de la Renta), and past them Tamara Beckwith and Marjorie Gubelmann's generation were holding court. But it was this new crew that seduced the audience, including the designers in attendance (e.g., Mr. Valentino, his successors, Valli, and even Marc Jacobs), as they descended on the dance floor. Zhukova shook her (exposed) hips in a low-slung, grass-grazing white Azzedine Alaïa gypsy skirt, and Monroque kicked up musical shoes from the same designer with bells on the ankles; other girls, including the Brandolinis, Niarchos, and Repossi, were in their prim Valentino but with their hair loose and their dance moves even looser.
"Yes, we welcome the new set with open arms," Carlos Souza, Mr. Valentino's longtime publicist, said at the time. "They speak the same language of romance, elegance, modernity, and femininity." It is a language Mr. Valentino has spoken for years and one this next generation is fluent in as well.
For her upcoming issue of Pop, Dasha Zhukova scored a big get: Twitter queen (and occasional singer) Britney Spears, who appears on multiple covers of the magazine. Todd Cole shot Brit-Brit for the glossy, and Takashi Murakami gave her the full kawaii Japanimation treatment. (We hear cartoon stickers will also appear throughout the mag.) Why Spears? “She’s feminine, sassy, strong-willed, determined: all the things a great Pop icon should be,” Zhukova told us from Moscow. “Couple that with some Japanese swimsuits and a Rodarte wedding gown and I think she is pretty much Pop personified!” Apparently the idea arose when Zhukova was discussing the idea of manga characters with Murakami—and voila, a cover star is born. The mag will be out September 1—it also includes a collaboration with Cindy Sherman, who reinterprets the Chanel woman, an interview with Hillary Clinton by Barbara Bush (!), and stories on Barbara Kruger, MNDR, and Martha Stewart (!!)—and we’ve got your exclusive first look at two of the covers, above