The Italian fashion designer turns 90 years old

Sone mother was perplexed: “Why do you only want to surround yourself with beautiful things and people?” Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani could not say exactly. But he knew, “I’m obsessed with beauty.” The boy, born in Voghera in the Po Valley in 1932, engaged after school only with the beautification of humanity, went to Paris and made an incredible career as a fashionista. designer.

Alphonse Kaiser

Editor-in-Chief of the “Germany and the World” section and Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin.

Unbelievable, if only because it covers such a long period of time. He was still a boy when in 1949 he received a scholarship from the Paris Fashion Association – in the competition, which his slightly younger colleagues Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld won in 1954 as the International Wool Secretariat’s award. And Valentino had already reached the center of fashion: haute couture, the greatest fashion art, which in the following decades was largely replaced by prêt-à-porter, but which was never lost, also because there were fashion designers like him.

Beautiful women, not dolls

The couture studio of the fifties was old school at its best. For five years he learned from Jean Dessès, then for two years from Guy Laroche, how to draw designs so precisely that the seamstresses could do something with them too. He learned to adapt and take care, learned to understand the women who in the studies were not only looking for a dress, but also for understanding, who increasingly wanted to grow into roles other than just being beautiful. In this respect, the emancipation movement also had an influence on his aesthetics: he wanted to make women more beautiful, but they were no longer to be dolls.

The Italian fashion designer Valentino.


The Italian fashion designer Valentino.
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Image: dpa

When he returned to Rome in 1959, he was lucky with one of his first clients: Elizabeth Taylor was looking for a dress for the premiere of “Spartacus”. “I want a dress on from you,” the diva said to the young fashion designer, who yawned at her. “But I have to tell you, I already have a Dior dress. But if yours is nicer, if it fits and pleases me, then I want yours to wear.” So he tried everything – and she wore his long white dress with a high belt with a thick square at the bottom, which pleated like a fluted Roman, a pillar of dress from the time of the slave Spartacus’ rebellion.

Elizabeth Taylor remained faithful to him until death, Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in 1968 in an ivory lace blouse with modest bishop’s sleeves and a pleated skirt of the same color. Julia Roberts received her Oscar for Valentino in 2001. And about her great years, actress Marisa Berenson told FAZ the memorable scene from her wedding to James Randall in Beverly Hills in 1976: “Andy Warhol constantly photographed the wedding preparations, me in the bathroom with curly hair, wearing bathrobe, looking for my pearl necklace that we could not find them at the last minute because we hid them so well. Bodyguards, bridesmaids and my husband’s relatives in the bedroom. Valentino ironed my wedding dress in my bathroom. And Andy kept pressing on the trigger. “

Design with ease

The rich beautiful and the beautiful rich were his collar size. He threw floral motifs after them, as prints in delft blue, as embroidery or as taffeta cockades. Even waterfall ruffles look like inverted cups on him, and so does a narrow bustier dress with a ruffled balloon skirt with several petals.
“His style is sober and graphic without ever being coolly minimalist,” writes fashion historian Pamela Golbin. Valentino freed fashion from all weight, took upholstery out of clothing and gave women – like Giorgio Armani to men – a sense of the unfathomable lightness of design.

The unbearable superficiality of life was the flip side. Cut tassels, sewn-on edges, ostrich feather fringes: it looks thickly applied, just as floral as his sweet perfume “Rock ‘n’ Rose”. Even worse: he realized his ideal of the graceful Roman nobles with the thinnest models. To this day, the brand sets the wrong dimensions and standards.

Goodbye to couture

As his business grew, he found that he enjoyed growing prosperity with a large art collection, an impressive villa at Holland Park, and designer furniture in abundance. But investors’ wishes also grew. When he sold the brand he had built up with his partner and business partner Giancarlo Giammetti for about $ 330 million in 1998, the end was predictable. After several changes of ownership, the British investment company Permira took over in 2007 and he was gone: on January 23, 2008, Valentino showed his last couture show. His successor Alessandra Facchinetti did not even last a year. Then they resorted to homemade products: Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, who had been in charge of the brand’s accessories since 1999, became chief designers; when Chiuri joined Dior in 2016, Piccioli was left alone.

One thing that speaks for the Valentino style is that Piccioli still uses his pool of ideas today – a wide range of ideas, from pleated crepe corsages to ruffled ruffles and long evening dresses to the surprising use of clear solid colors instead of classic Valentino -red. In the current collection for spring and summer, Piccioli breaks with the old codes with thick boots or gladiator sandals – and this already results in a look that, although from yesterday, can still inspire today.

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