Valentino's Fashion Evolution
Although ultra-feminine, the evening gowns with which Valentino's name is synonymous with retain a certain simplicity and always – lightness. Whichever of his ultra glamorous A-list clientele wears Valentino, it is always them wearing the dress, rather than the other way around.
Valentino Garavani was born in 1932 in Lombardy, northern Italy. He took an interest in dressmaking and fashion from an early age and at 17 he moved to Paris to study at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts and Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. During the next few years he apprenticed for couturiers including Guy Laroche. 1959 saw Valentino return to Italy to start his own business. In 1960 he met Giancarlo Giammetti – his partner for life, both romantically and in business. Giametti’s shrewd ways have been credited with Valentino’s extraordinary profits. Throughout the next decade his reputation spread and his atelier became popular with celebrities, having imported, as he had, the French tradition of haute couture into the Italian fashion market, which was known for its textile manufacture and workmanship.
He began to hold couture fashion shows in 1962, and by 1967 he was winning awards and spreading his business to the States, where he caught the attention of a certain Jacqueline Kennedy. His client base included Joan Collins, Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren then later Halle Berry, Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Naomi Watts, Claire Danes, Gwen Stefani, Lindsay Lohan, Claudia Shiffer, Jennifer Lopez, Cate Blanchett and Gwenyth Paltrow.
In the 2009 documentary, Valentino, The last Emperor, journalist Cathy Horyn, sadly explains that Valentino is the last link in the chain of true haute couturiers, who learned first-hand from the master of the craft. That when he leaves fashion, no-one could replace him. For his part, Valentino shakes his head and says; ‘I love beauty, it’s not my fault.’
The film title - the Last Emperor – refers to the fact that he is the last of his generation, but also, he and Giancarlo’s luxurious lifestyle, including a private jet for his pet pugs. In 2008, Valentino retired after celebrating 45 years in the business and lavish retrospective show in Rome and Paris.
Firstly ex-Gucci designer Alessandra Facchinetti was appointed his successor, but after two seasons, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli replaced her. Having worked alongside Valentino on his accessories line for a decade, they presented their first couture collection in Jan 2009 which was immediately a hit with critics and buyers. Jennifer Aniston wore a dress of theirs to the Oscars in 2009 - cementing their place in the establishment.
The design duo, who both have children and are married, though not to each other, have been working in tandem for more than 20 years. They began as handbag designers at Fendi, where they stayed for a decade before moving on to create accessories for Valentino, which they did for eight years alongside the founder. 'We moved from Fendi to Valentino because we wanted to work with Mr. Valentino and [longtime business partner] Mr. Giammetti, that kind of legend,' says Piccioli. 'If you are passionate for fashion, you have to love Valentino. He's a couturier first, then a designer, and then a brand.'