Birthplace: Voghera, Italy
Awards: Neiman Marcus Award, 1967
Grand'Ufficiale dell'ordine al Merito, 1985 Ufficiale di Gran Croce, 1986
National Italian American Foundation Award, 1989
In 1998 one of the world's most revered couturiers, Valentino, and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, sold 100 percent of their company to the Italian industrial giant Holding di Partecipaziono Industriali (HdP). After almost forty years, their couture house became one of several purchased during the final decades of the twentieth century by a larger company wishing to claim a piece of the fashion/luxury market.
By the end of the century, the couture business had become a losing one. In 1960, when Valentino first opened his maison, his couture clientele was the house's primary source of revenue; however, by the time the company was sold, he and Giammetti admitted they had been taking only a limited number of couture orders each season. It had become impossible to make a profit, considering the huge cost of producing a single garment. It had become clear that publicity was the key to success in the fashion business, and that only huge funds would enable companies like Valentino's to compete with massive conglomerates like Bernard Arnault's LVMH, owner of Dior and Givenchy, among many.
How different it was when Valentino first came to Paris in 1950, from his home in northern Italy, where he had taken fashion design courses and studied French to prepare for his move to the world's fashion capital. He took courses at the Ecole Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and won a competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat, the same organization that sponsored a competition for which Karl Lagerfeld received recognition, shortly thereafter. He worked under Jean Desses for five years, under Guy LaRoche for two, and then as assistant to Princess Irene Gal-itzine. By 1959 Valentino was living in Rome, where he opened a small atelier on the Via Condotti.
In 1962 the young designer was invited to show his fall collection at a fashion show held at the Pitti Palace in Florence, which became the first of many triumphs. By that time Valentino had met his future partner, Giam-metti, and the two set about creating an international business, recognized by the winning "V", a logo now recognized around the world. Jacqueline Kennedy helped put Valentino on the map when she started wearing his creations. He designed an entire wardrobe for her 1967 trip to Cambodia. That same year he showed his very modern "White Collection," which was considered quite radical, and a challenge to London's stronghold on 1960s fashion. In 1968 Valentino was dubbed the "Sheik of Chic," having created the dress Kennedy wore for her marriage to Aristotle Onassis. By the end of the decade, he had opened ready-to-wear boutiques in Milan and Paris, the first of many which now exist throughout the world.
Valentino began the 1970s by dropping a fashion bombshell—bringing the miniskirt down from thigh-high to mid-calf. His business continued to flourish throughout the decade, renowned for elegant clothing which reflected refinement, sophistication, and superior workmanship. His use of fire-engine red color, which became his signature, is now legendary. In 1972 Valentino presented his first menswear collection; in 1973 Valentino Piu, his home fashion and gift division opened; and in 1978 his signature fragrance debuted.
By the time the 1980s began, it was evident that Valentino would remain a star, combining his commitment to elegance with fresh, youthful ideas. In 1982 he presented his fall collection at New York's Metropolitan Museum, and in 1984 he celebrated both the company's twenty-fifth anniversary and his fiftieth couture collection with a fashion show and gala in Rome's Piazza d'Espagna. In a career filled with highlights, perhaps the presentation of his 1991 "Peace" dress, a white crepe column, embroidered with silver beads spelling the word "peace" in fourteen languages, is still one of fashion history's most talked about moments.
Today, the Valentino empire includes boutiques in Europe, Japan, and the United States of America, with licensing agreements for a multitude of products ranging from furs, swimwear, sunglasses, and umbrellas to wallpaper, upholstery fabrics, and children's wear. The company's ready-to-
wear is made by Italy's manufacturing giant GFT, which is also owned by HdP. Other lines, including men's ties, socks, and belts are produced under the names Miss V and Oliver.
Valentino's wide appeal is evidenced by the list of famous customers who have worn his creations, from Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and Nancy Reagan to Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, and Ashley Judd, all of whom are among his devoted followers. What is it about his clothing that transcends time and the ages of his customers? Some say it is impeccable cut, others the combination of luxury and practicality; some credit his uncanny ability to make women look feminine, but never frilly—impeccably dressed, but never overdressed. Whatever his technique, he has managed to retain his spirit, enthusiasm, and success, weathering, in his own words, "every storm of fashion." See also: Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior; Hubert de Gi-venchy.
Costin, Glynis. "Valentino: Coming to America." W (September 14, 1992): 10. Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Designers. New York: Stewart,
Tabori and Chang, 1985. Pelle, Marie Paule, and Patrick Mauries. Valentino: Thirty Years of Magic. New
York: Abbeville Press, 1991. Peres, Daniel. "Power House: Fresh from the Sale of their Fashion Empire, Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti Discuss How the House Will Change—and How It Won't." W (March 1998): 390.
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