Imagine the excitement and thrill of having Jacqueline Kennedy as the woman who made you famous. Imagine her buying every single outfit you showed her on your very first private viewing. Imagine the responsibility of dressing her on her wedding day. Imagine the style, elegance, beauty and sophistication she would bring to your label, and the world wide press coverage that you would receive. All of this sounds wonderful to me, and that’s exactly what happened to Italian designer Valentino! Jackie O quickly became Valentino’s number one fan, and bought huge success to the fashion house, launching the designer onto the American market. It is the collaboration between designer and muse that is so special, so pure, and this partnership in particular was paramount in the world of fashion.
Most of the designers who have been inspirational to me on my fashion journey have been the greats who exploded onto the scene during The Golden Age of Couture. But one designer who came afterwards has been just as influential to me. Although he started his career in the early 1950’s, alongside Dior, Balenciaga and Laroche, Valentino did not own the world of fashion until the following decade, and continued to make explosive footsteps in fashion until his retirement in the mid 2000’s. Valentino Garvani was born in a small Italian town called Voghera in 1932. He grew up living a very abundant lifestyle, wanting for nothing from his parents, and recalling himself as a very spoilt child. He knew from a young age that the world of couture was calling him, and his passion was both approved and encourage by his parents. Whilst a teenager, Valentino expressed his desire to have his own custom made shoes and clothes. In the post-war period of the late 1940’s, Valentino discovered the art and glamour of Hollywood motion pictures, with the likes of Lana Turner and Judy Garland, adding more fuel to his already ignited passion for fashion. It was through this discovery that Valentino’s future was decided.
Valentino graduated from high school and soon after took a six month course in fashion design in Italy. His determination and enthusiasm to follow his dreams was so ferocious, that he told his parents at only eighteen years old, that he was moving to Paris. With his natural born talents, Valentino made the move to the French capital in 1950, when the House of Dior was at the height of the Golden Age. Valentino marvelled at this ‘New Look’ that had taken over the world of couture, and recognising he had entered Paris at just the right time, enrolled at the prestigious Ecole de la Chambre Syndical de la Couture Parisienne. Whilst furthering his studies, Valentino mastered his craft and learnt new techniques to bring to the world of fashion. Upon graduation, he applied for apprenticeships at Jaques Fath and Balenciaga. Valentino was soon hired by another couturier of the decade, Jean Desses, and remained at the house for five years, alongside Guy Laroche. After Laroche went out on his own, Valentino soon joined him at the House of Laroche. Being a much smaller firm, Valentino was able to be involved in all aspects of the business, from sketching to running errands, and gave the young Italian a solid foundation to take home with him to establish his own brand in Italy.
With his drive to succeed, and the unfailing support of his parents, Valentino opened his first couture house at 11 Via Condotti in Rome. His first collection was released for spring/summer 1959, with the press making sure that his Parisian training was well covered. The following year, one of his financial backers withdrew, which opened up the door for a fresh new influence to arrive. Giancarlo Giammetti was studying architecture at the time, but realised the potential of the House of Valentino, and soon invested in the business, becoming Valentino’s right-hand man and faithful companion for the remaining years. It did not take long for people to recognise the Valentino world of opulence and luxury, with actresses, royalty and aristocrats soon knocking on the front door of the saloon. In the early sixties, Italian fashion was starting to take off, with American buyers traveling to the Roman Empire to view collections and place substantial orders. Valentino was producing a ready-to-wear collection, with some American department stores placing orders for 300 plus dresses per season. There was money to be made on the American market, with Valentino and Giammetti frontrunners in the game.
In September 1964, Valentino showcased a collection at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. This was the beginning of his love affair with Jacqueline Kennedy. The former First Lady placed an order for one of every piece in his collection, to be made in black and white. This event was truly monumental in Valentino’s career, and in the landmark year of his career in 1968, Valentino designed the wedding dress for Jacqueline Kennedy for her marriage to Aristotle Onassis. The pair would remain muse and designer for years to come.
In the 1970’s, the Italian fashion industry was in trouble, with the only exception being Valentino. The label continued to have grand success on a global scale. The very first scent released by the house was during this period, with the launch party being nothing short of extravagant. The Valentino brand continued to diversify, creating various franchises including handbags, shoes, belts, ties, luggage and umbrellas. At one point in time, the Japanese market contained more than forty franchises alone.
Valentino became synonymous with one particular colour during his career. Red. Although he released many collections in black and white, the vibrant shade of red was always featured somewhere in his works. The colour red symbolises passion, love and romance, with every collection released by Valentino since 1959, having at least one red masterpiece included. The House of Valentino now has a diffusion label under its brand called Red Valentino, with boutiques here in Australia and across the world. Valentino is also known for his feminine silhouettes, making any woman fortunate enough to wear one, be overwhelmed by elegance, grace, beauty and sophistication. Valentino is a popular choice around award season in Hollywood, with many fine dames being lucky enough to wear a piece of Valentino history.
After fifty years in charge of his business, Valentino decided it was time to retire the pencils in 2008. In his last fashion show, nine hundred guest were invited to this most enchanting evening in Paris. Under a full moon, Valentino took his last bow to a standing ovation. Becoming a premier Italian fashion brand, Valentino proved that Italy could rival Paris when it came to the world of couture, and that the world of fashion was indeed universal. Today, the name Valentino is still spoken about with gusto and flair in the ever expanding rag trade. Valentino has never been about high fashion, but about making a woman sensual and seductive. It’s about how themes and variations may change, but the underlying element of a woman will never change.
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx