The Victorious Valentino

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 What defines the classic yet contemporarily chic Valentino signature style? Beauty combining classic lines with an ultra-modern flair.  

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

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 comparable to 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 styles, 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 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. A man filled with tenacity, once this Taurus sets his eyes on something, it becomes his 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 be a major force in fashion design.

It is a goal that has been realized, as is evidenced by his 45 year reign 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 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.”

But 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 hue-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, which would fill an entire issue of Haute Living, 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. Always innovative, and faithful to his worldwide following, Valentino is the fashion voice for romantic and feminine clothes that celebrate the times 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 style combines old world glamour and grace with the fast pace of a sometimes vulgar and uncivil world. In a world that increasingly is too fleeting 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 designs, appreciate elegance and what goes into the art of serious and valid fashion. Valentino provides a contemporary example of such an approach with the popularity of the grunge look of the 1990s. 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 necessary 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. The V is as synonymous with Valentino as the color red. These two undeniable symbols of the glamour are loved by many worldwide. The red symbolizes creative freedom and sensuality mixed with femininity. Red is also a universal color for love. Valentino’s love for fashion and love for life helps merge many spirits into harmony, a template that one could use to better the world.

Before fast forwarding to 2002, 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 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 that 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.

The elegant former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy became enchanted by his designs, and instantly ordered six outfits. She became not only a devout client, but also a friend. She bought his couture dresses, all in black and white, to wear during her year of mourning after former President John F. Kennedy’s death. Valentino later would design the white dress that Jackie wore to her wedding with Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis. After Valentino’s black and white phase in 1967, he introduced a signature still synonymous with the fashion house today when he presented a collection of dresses in the Valentino red. By this time, Valentino had established himself as a top name in haute couture worldwide, and received the Neiman Marcus Prize in Dallas, a fashion award equivalent to that of an Oscar.

By the 1970s, Valentino’s ready-to-wear line was ready for the streets, as was a menswear line, and a line for decorative materials. By the 1980s, Valentino had his own perfumes, accessories, and other labels including Miss V, Oliver Homme, and Oliver Femme. While continuing to design and make his grand impact on the lives of many, in 1982, he published his first book, Valentino, edited by Franco Maria Ricci, and launched his Autumn/Winter collection at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

The subsequent years had the Valentino house growing their brand, while Valentino himself kept dressing some of the world’s biggest stars in his styles for some of the biggest moments in their careers. The celebration of his 30th year in the fashion business took place in 1991, marked by an exhibition entitled: “Valentino: Thirty Years of Magic,” organized in Valentino’s honor by the Mayor of Rome at the Capitole Museum. In 1998, Valentino and Giammetti decided to sell the company for approximately $300 million to HdP, an Italian conglomerate controlled, in part, by the late Gianni Agnelli, former head of Fiat. In 2002, Valentino S.p.A., with revenues of more than $180 million, was sold by HdP to Marzotto Apparel, a Milan-based textile giant, for $210 million. The Marzotto Group is a world leader in the textile and fashion industry.

For over 160 years the Marzotto company has represented innovation and excellence with yarns and fabrics unlike any other company in the industry. One of the advantages of writing this story is that I know exactly what it feels like to wear a Valentino. The fabric and fit are perfect and of the highest standard with beautiful stitching unlike other garments. In their home décor, the Marzotto Group is building bridges between great wool traditions and fine styling, expressing a timeless elegance and sophistication.

Today the Valentino Fashion Group, S.p.A. includes M Missoni, Marlboro Classics, and Hugo Boss. It plays a vital role in creating products in clothing, accessories, and footwear. With offices in over 100 countries and more than 1,400 single-branded boutiques, as well as 284 directly managed boutiques globally, the Valentino Fashion Group has three active business units including the aforementioned brands. The Valentino unit features the Valentino brand, Valentino Garavani, Valentino Roma, and R.E.D. Valentino. On August 3, 2007, the Wall Street Journal announced that the Valentino Fashion Group S.p.A reported an eighteen percent increase in first-half net profits, illustrating a robust sales growth. In fact, the Valentino Fashion Group is valued at close to $3.5 billion today, a number reflective of the venerable company’s long and illustrious history.

In July of this year, Rome saw the spectacular celebration of the house of Valentino honoring 45 years of a remarkable life in fashion. It was a cultural celebration spread over three days, from July 6-8, complete with a couture fashion show, the first shown in Rome in 17 years. The location was fitting and special for the designer. He explains that being honored in Rome was “a privilege that makes me extremely happy, [because it is] the only city where I feel truly at home, where I founded my atelier, and where I continue to work with my closest collaborators. A city where I take pride in feeling I belong and that once again I can show to the world in all of its beauty.”

These events took place at some of the most historical buildings in all of Rome, as the city came together to honor one of its most important and influential residents. He chose to celebrate at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, the Temple of Venus, the Monumental Complex of Santo Spirito in Sassia, and the Parco dei Daini of Villa Borghese for their artistic and historical values.

The museum was home to “Valentino a Roma: 45 Years of Style,” an exhibition of 300 dresses that superbly showcase the works of the legendary designer throughout the phases of his career. The second floor of the museum brought guests on a chronological showcase of designs, while the first floor brilliantly showcased the works through dresses that world famous women have worn throughout the years to important events.

The Haute Couture fashion show took place at the Monumental Complex of Santo Spirito in Sassia on July 7, 2007. Attended by fashion greats like Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Tom Ford, and others, Valentino showcased more than 60 gowns. After the show, a gala dinner and ball was held in the Parco dei Daini, where princesses mingled with movie stars, all shrouded in classic Valentino designs.

Also in honor of the iconic couturier, A Great Italian Story was published by Taschen. The oversized book contains a selection of images from Valentino’s archives, accented by beautifully written articles on the designer from various stages of his long career. With an introduction by Suzy Menkes from the International Herald Tribune, and pieces by the likes of Rupert Everett, Anna Wintour, and John Fairchild, the book is a collector’s dream.

Seeing as his goal has always been to make women look and feel beautiful, Valentino will continue to be one of the most admired and prestigious brands in the world, even after he steps down in January 2008. In light of his recent announcement, Valentino Fashion Group has reorganized the creative team, ensuring the Valentino legacy will live on. After all, there is a line to plan for the upcoming season’s fashion shows, actresses who need gowns for next year’s Cannes, and somewhere, there is a princess dreaming of walking down the aisle in Valentino.

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