After nearly 40 years of superlative evening dress designing, Valentino Garavani, known simply as Valentino, sold his company in 1998 for $300 million. In 2006 President Chirac of France awarded this Italian the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. Then in 2007 retirement age had finally arrived – he was 75 and had done it all: from Jackie Onassis’ wedding dress to J Lo’s. He waved farewell with an extravagant party in Rome and his successor, Alessandra Facchinetti – the former designer for Gucci – was announced. Her 2008 shows received rapturous reports.
Born in Voghera, Italy, in May 1932, Valentino studied fashion design and French at the Accademia dell Arte in Milan – he then went to the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. While still a student, he was awarded a prize for fashion design by the International Wool Secretariat (later won by both Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld). His first job in 1950, aged 18, was with couturier Jean Desses. He later worked for Guy Laroche. Valentino launched his first collection – and salon – in Rome in 1960. By the mid-1960s he was already considered the undisputed maestro of Italian Couture, receiving in 1967 the Neiman Marcus Award, the equivalent of an Oscar in the field of fashion. The Begum Aga Khan, Farah Diba, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Marella Agnelli and Princess Margaret were already customers as well as personal friends. Throughout the 1970s Garavani spent considerable time in New York City where his presence was embraced by social personalities such as Vogue’s editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland and art identities such as Andy Warhol.
He was famed for his full-length skirts, rather than minis: "I don’t think any man in the world wants to go out with a woman dressed like a boy", he said. In 1991, to celebrate 30 years in fashion, Valentino threw a three-day party.