Celebrating 45 years of style this year, Valentino is more than just a fashion icon. He is a living legend whose styles have dressed the most important women in recent history.
By Sonia Tita Puopolo
Valentino’s flawless and remarkable ability to maintain continuity while promoting innovation is what marks him as the fashion industry’s pioneering icon.
There are those rare times in life when work equals fantasy. So when I initially heard of the possibility of writing an article on one of the most elegant and influential designers of all time, the incredible and incomparable Valentino, I was thrilled at the chance of being involved in my own fashion fantasyland! To write about Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani, better known by one name alone-Valentino-is like being invited to sing the lead in the Fashionista Opera. Simply put, Valentino is one of the most important designers in the world of fashion. Each season, with his new lines, colors, and style, his influence and impact ripple across the fashion world like few of his contemporaries. No one would dispute this claim, not even his rivals who replace the expected jealousy and envy with compassion, respect, and admiration. His story and his legend are replete with many lessons and insights for the sophisticated reader of Haute Living.
This iconic fashion designer was born in Voghera, Italy on May 11, 1932, which makes him a Taurus. Today, he still demonstrates the qualities that define the sign, mainly tenacity. Once a Taurus sets their eyes on something, it becomes their only objective. It was a move to his beloved Paris in his teens that would have the lifelong impact on Valentino, who in his youth appreciated and was intrigued by the well-dressed grand dames who graced the Parisian society and streets of the French city. He meticulously studied the ambiance of how the human body could be accented to communicate a distinct, eye-stopping image. During his formative years in Paris, with many days visiting the salons and art galleries of the French capital, Valentino knew instinctively that his passion and life would be fashion. It was becoming his focal point for living and at this time, he conveyed to his closest friends that he was determined to not only emulate, but to be a major force in fashion design.
It is a goal that has been realized, as is evidenced by the past 45 years as one of the most influential designers. It is because he has never veered from his vision: “I want a woman to look beautiful,” he says. “It’s a very simple statement, but it’s my mantra.” He has kept this at the forefront of his being throughout his career, since his first days in Paris. While Paris and its sophisticated environs were comfortable and so meaningful to Valentino, he decided to return to his native homeland, Italy, where he opened his first atelier in Rome in the early 1960s. It was a time of questioning tradition and authority worldwide, and such inquisitions also were evident in fashion. It was during this turbulent time that Valentino found his soul mate, Giancarlo Giammetti, who shared and understood Valentino’s dream and potential. The two burgeoning entrepreneurs discussed their plans and dreams on how they would revolutionize what style and glamour was all about in fashion.
Yet, he admits he was not necessarily sure what that entailed. “I was naïve. I didn’t know how the world went round,” he explains. “My parents gave me money, but nobody wanted to be dressed by a young and unknown Italian stylist. And I did not know, for example, that you had to have a fashion show in Florence before you could enter the circle of those who counted.”
Put together, Giancarlo and Valentino proved to be nearly unstoppable. They developed their business plan, and constantly refined how their products would differ and be distinctive over the competition. Friends of this dynamic duo describe their vision as obsessive-the mark of any successful leadership team.
Over many dinners, lunches, and late night bottles of Chianti with its deep red-a color that later would be a defining characteristic of Valentino-the two established the foundation for one of the most successful fashion enterprises in history. And, for over 45 years, the Valentino name has been synonymous with style, accomplishment, and success. The designer’s accolades would fill an entire issue of Haute Living. Suffice it to say, they include the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000 as well as the French Légion d’Honneur award by the President of the French Republic in 2005.
What defines the classic yet contemporarily chic Valentino signature style? Beauty combining classic lines with an ultra-modern flair. Innnovative always, and faithful to his worldwide following and appreciation, Valentino is the fashion voice for romantic and feminine clothes that celebrate the time and honor history. For example, he says his Fall/Winter 2007-2008 collection has “gone back to the great eighties’ runway beauties, and to forties’ movie stars. It’s Dalma meet Lauren Bacall in 2007.”
Valentino’s flawless and remarkable ability to maintain continuity while promoting innovation is what marks him as the fashion industry’s pioneering icon. His is a style that combines old world glamour and grace with the fast pace of a sometimes vulgar and uncivil world. In a world that increasingly is too fast paced to make sense of, Valentino provides a fashion mosaic that soothes the mind with its inviting allure to balance and perfection. His love for beauty is clear. Valentino says, “My obsession has always been to make beautiful clothes.” In looking at those who cohabitate our shared global village, it is crystal clear that not all designers, many going for the fast buck with meaningless and fragmented design, appreciate elegance and what goes into the art of serious and meaningful fashion. Valentino provides a contemporary example of such an approach with the popularity of the grunge look. His response was to altogether ignore the grunge movement, instead stating: “Many women want to be extraordinary and feminine. That will never change. What I want is for a woman to walk into a room and everyone turns to look at her, I want a woman to be noticed and always arouse admiration.”
In an era when there is much confusion and a desperate need for tranquility and peace worldwide, Valentino, the artist, provides the needed respite through his fashions. In his work, which many would argue should be housed in museums worldwide given the first ladies, queens, and princesses who have donned his clothing, Valentino epitomizes goodness. As his partner Giammetti describes him, “Valentino likes to be in control. But he always makes you feel that everything will be alright. He is such an incredible optimist that, somehow or other, he convinces you that nothing bad will happen to you.”
This message resonates especially well in today’s turbulent times. Valentino replaces fear with hope. The V in Valentino stands for victory over the mundane. Obviously, the V also stands for Valentino, as does the color red. These two undeniable symbols of the glamour and signature of Valentino are loved by many worldwide. The red symbolizes creative freedom and sensuality mixed with femininity. Red also is a universal color for love. Valentino’s love for fashion and love for life seems to help merge many spirits into harmony, a template that one could use to better the world.
Before fast forwarding to 2002 to when the Marzotto Group acquired Valentino and strengthened its portfolio of brands by enhancing its role in the women’s couture and luxury segments, let’s first step into history. Valentino’s first fashion show at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy, in 1962, was a noteworthy event that would help push his career forward almost overnight. In September 1964, Valentino’s benefit show at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria began a grand tradition he has carried throughout his lifetime and career in order to communicate the importance of not only his fashions making the world a better place, but also the charitable causes he chooses to embrace and nurture in a compassionate and loving way, much in the way he nurtures his designs and the people around him.