Born: Valentino Garavani in Voghera, Italy, 11 May 1932. Education: Studied French and fashion design, Accademia dell'Arte, Milan, to 1948; studied at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, 1949-51. Career: Assistant designer, Jean Dessés, 1950-55, and Guy Laroche, 1956-58; assistant to Princess Irene Galitzine, 1959; business established, Rome, 1960; showed first ready-to-wear collection, 1962; ready-to-wear boutique established, Paris, 1968; company owned by Kenton Corporation, 1968-73, Rome shop opened and menswear collection introduced, 1972; repurchased by Valentino, 1973; Valentino Piú established, 1973; signature fragrance introduced, 1978; opened Milan shop, 1979; London store, 1987; founded Valentino Academy as well as LIFE, an AIDS assistance program and fund, 1990; launched Vendetta and Vendetta Pour Homme complementary fragrances, 1993; opened new boutiques in Rome and New York, 1996; V Zone sportswear launched for fall 1997; introduced new fragrance Very Valentino, 1997; sold firm to Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali (HdP), 1998; Very Valentino Homme debuted, 1999; Valentino Roma line launched, 2000; rehauled Milan store, 2001; considered buying firm back from HdP, 2001. Exhibitions: Italian Re-Evolution, La Jolla Art Museum, California, 1982; 30 Years of Magic traveling exhibit and retrospective, 1991; retrospective, Capitoline Museum, Rome, 1991, and New York, 1992. Awards: Neiman Marcus award, 1967; National Italian American Foundation award, 1989; CFDA Lifetime Achievement award, 2000. Address: Piazza Mignanelli 22, 00187 Rome, Italy. Website: www.valentino.it.
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Both a reverent hush and an excited clamor simultaneously surround the Italian designer Valentino. He enjoys the patronage of a long established clientéle of wealthy and aristocratic women, yet his clothes are never staid and always express a fresh, current style. His collections and his lifestyle embody the grandeur and serenity of eternal Rome, where he works from his salon near the Spanish Steps, and at the same time represents the point of view of a jetsetting citizen of the world. In 2000 Valentino celebrated 40 years in business. The anniversary was celebrated in characteristic Valentino style in Los Angeles, atop the Pacific Design Center with a slew of celebrities in attendance to honor him. The gala raised more than $250,000 to go to the Children's Action Network.
In 1960, when Valentino opened his first salon in the Via Condotti, Rome was the center of fashion in Italy. The ready-to-wear designers of Milan, the industrial center, did not come to prominence until a decade later. After having served as an apprentice in Paris for five years with Jean Dessés and two years with Guy Laroche, Valentino's design foundation was firmly set in the haute couture tradition of quality, luxury, and a dose of extravagance. He immediately began to attract clients who came to him for his finely crafted, colorful, and elegant designs. By the mid-1960s he introduced his signature trousersuits for day and evening.
In 1968 he created a sensation with his White Collection, featuring short dresses shown with lace stockings and simple flat shoes. The very same year Jacqueline Kennedy chose a lace-trimmed silk two-piece dress with a short pleated skirt, for her marriage to Aristotle Onassis. Yet red has since become Valentino's signature color, a rich shade of crimson with vibrant overtones of orange. He has used it throughout his collections, especially in his lavish evening designs, characterized by magnificent embroideries and meticulous detailing. A section of his retrospective exhibition was devoted to evening jackets covered entirely in elaborately beaded decorations. Typical Valentino details include scalloped trims and hems, raglan sleeves, circular ruffles, complex plays of proportion, and extravagant pattern and texture mixes—like the combination of lace, velvet, and houndstooth in a single outfit.
In 1989 Valentino celebrated 30 years of high fashion with a two-night extravaganza in Rome, and invited hundreds of his high-profile friends, from politicos and royals such as Baroness Marie-Helene Rothschild, Mme. Claude Pompidou, Georgette Mosbacher, Pat Buckley, and Nancy Kissinger to Hollywood icons Elizabeth Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida, and Marissa Berenson. The $5-million affair was a fête to remember, with a sumptuous buffet, champagne, fireworks, flowing fountains, an American 16-piece orchestra, and a retrospective of his work at the Palazzo dei Conservatori museum, designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century. Yet for all the glamour and excess, the retrospective was set to travel to Florence, then on to London, Madrid, New York City, and Tokyo. Proceeds raised from the show were earmarked for LIFE, Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti's private fund for AIDS victims; Giammetti is Valentino's business partner who, from the late 1960s through present day, was fundamental in the worldwide expansion and success the fashion house.
Valentino's devotees flock to him for couture, ready-to-wear, and a vast array of products and accessories including menswear, leather goods, eyewear, furs, and fragrances. He reaches a younger market through his Oliver line of clothing, which is casual but still marked with distinctively refined Valentino sensibility. He produces a special collection of eveningwear called Valentino Night, in which the luxury of his couture designs is adapted for a wider audience. All of his designs, throughout all of his collections, express a singularly opulent view of the world. Valentino's sensibility embraces both timelessness and originality, filtered through a dedication to a luxurious way of life and the commitment to express that lifestyle in his collections. For many Valentino represents not just a style of dressing, but rather a style of living.
—Alan E. Rosenberg;
updated by Sydonie Benét
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