Valli, Giambattista

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Valli, Giambattista


Fashion designer

B orn in 1966 in Rome, Italy. Education: Attended the European Design Institute, mid1980s; earned degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, 1987.

Addresses: Office—c/o Gilmar USA, 57 E. 64th St., New York, NY 10021-7066.


B egan career in public-relations for Rome’s Fashion Week events; public relations associate for Roberto Capucci, c. 1988; later became member of design staff; senior designer of Fendissime line, Fendi, c. 1990; senior designer for women’s ready-to-wear, Krizia, c. 1995; designer of ready-to-wear line for Emanuel Ungaro, 1997; creative director for Emanuel Ungaro, 1998; creative director of Ungaro Fever, 2001, creative director of ready-to-wear, diffusion lines, and accessories, 2001-04; launched eponymous label, March 2005.


I talian fashion designer Giambattista Valli first rose to prominence as the up-and-coming new designer at Emanuel Ungaro, the Paris-based ready-to-wear and haute couture house. In 2005, Valli launched his own line, which earned enthusiastic reviews for its ultra-feminine silhouettes. “At some point you have to decide what you want to be: a translator all your life, or yourself,” he told Katya Foreman in WWD, after launching his own label. “If I look back then I think I was totally crazy, but at the time, all I was thinking was next, next, next.”

Valli was born in Italy’s capital, Rome, in 1966, and in his youth was sent to Roman Catholic schools located inside the Vatican, the papal enclave in the city. He keeps in his office a photograph of him with John Paul I, the pope who reigned for just 33 days in 1978, and his interest in fashion is on display in the image, as Valli is sporting turquoise shorts. He loved fashion as a child, he told WWD. “Even as young as five, I would sketch everything” he saw on awards shows broadcast on Italian television— broadcasts that were still in black and white at the time, he told Foreman. “I would draw their outfits and try to guess what colors.”

Valli studied at the School of Art in Rome as a teenager, went on to the European Design Institute in 1986, and then to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, from which he graduated with a degree in illustration. His first job was with Cecilia Fanfani, a planner of Rome’s Fashion Week events, and that led to a stint in public relations with Roberto Capucci, an avant-garde designer based in Rome. He eventually moved up to a position on Capucci’s design staff before moving on to the house of Fendi, one of Italy’s biggest names in fashion, as senior designer for its Fendissime line, which is aimed at younger women.

Valli then went to Krizia, the Milan label founded by Mariuccia Mandelli, where he was senior designer for women’s ready-to-wear. He was lured away when Emanuel Ungaro asked him to submit some sketches after hearing about the young designer’s talents from a mutual colleague. Valli duly turned in some ideas, then went to India for a vacation; he was forced to cut the trip short when Ungaro liked the sketches so much that he asked to meet with Valli immediately. Ungaro founded his own label in 1965 after serving a long apprenticeship with legendary Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga. Ungaro’s “career high came in the taffeta-heavy ’80s,” noted a writer for London’s Guardian newspaper, Charlie Porter. “His highly decorated, ruched, starchy dresses-with-a-sense-of-occasion suited the times.”

Like many designers, Ungaro struggled through the early 1990s, and, in 1996, he entered into a financial partnership with the large Italian fashion house of Salvatore Ferragamo. That deal precipitated the decision to bring in Valli as the new designer for the ready-to-wear line in 1997. A year later, he was named creative director and, in 2001, took over Un-garo Fever, a clothing line aimed at younger customers. Both he and Ungaro said in interviews that the fit was a good one. “You know, in most of the houses, they bring in somebody new who doesn’t think about what is the real story,” Valli told Porter in the Guardian. “They build up their own, but it doesn’t fit with the style of the house. But with Mr. Ungaro there is never a case of me or you. I always propose what I think is right for Ungaro. I never propose the trend of the moment.”

Ungaro delivered strong praise for Valli later in 2001, when the younger designer took over the ready-to-wear, diffusion lines, and accessories, and premiered his first collection at the Paris spring/ summer collections in October. It was a rare occurrence in the fashion world for a living designer to pass on the reins to a successor. “It was my personal duty to give to him what I received,” Ungaro explained to Miles Socha in WWD about his protégé. “Season after season, he has shown that he understands the spirit of the house. He’s clever; he’s young. And of course, after so many years, he understands the culture of Ungaro. He’s gathered the power and the knowledge.”

Over the next few seasons, however, there were reports of problems at Ungaro with the Ferragamo bosses, and perhaps even between Valli and Ungaro. “Insiders describe their working relationship as es-tranged,” wrote Socha in a 2004 WWD report. “Valli gave the brand a new currency among the celebrity and social set, but reviews have been uneven and his sexed-up styles often chafed with the house’s couture roots.” The WWD article mentioned that Vincent Darre from Moschino had been named the new designer at Ungaro, but Socha also noted that Valli was planning to launch his own line.

Valli debuted his first collection under his own name in March of 2005 at the Paris fall/winter collections. His financial backing was provided by Gilmar, an Italian apparel manufacturer, but he remained a Paris-based designer. The frilly, flirty looks he had perfected at Ungaro remained a strong part of his creative output. Writing in early 2006 about his second collection, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles asserted that “Valli has begun to evolve a signature style that draws on the dynamic chic of late-fifties Italian style icons (Marella Agnelli, Silvana Man-gano, Monica Vitti) and the exaggerated proportions and silhouettes of that period’s couture clothing—but executed with a light, modern hand.”

Valli launched a footwear line in the spring of 2008, and was readying his first boutique in the United States in New York City. A high-profile celebrity clientele has regularly been photographed in his clothes, including Victoria Beckham, Penelope Cruz, and Mischa Barton. Occasionally rumors arose that he was in line for another top job at an established house, such as Valentino. He professed to be unin-terested in any more arrangements of the kind, he told a writer for London’s Independent. “It’s almost like someone who gets his freedom and then doesn’t want to marry again. I want to taste it a little bit.”


Guardian (London, England), April 7, 2001, p. 26.

Independent (London, England), December 17, 2007, p. 6.

Vogue, March 2006, p. 350.

WWD, October 9, 2001, p. 9; October 25, 2004, p. 2; October 3, 2007, p. 12.

—Carol Brennan