FOUNDED DURING THE GLORY DAYS OF ROME'S 'DOLCE VITA', VALENTINO GARAVANI QUICKLY WENT ON TO PRODUCE THE MOST FEMININE HAUTE COUTURE THE WORLD HAD EVER SEEN. HIS WORK SHONE ON THE RED CARPET, WORN BY STARS LIKE ELIZABETH TAYLOR AND AUDREY HEPBURN. UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF HIS LONG-TIME COLLEAGUES, GRAZIA CHIURI AND PIERPAOLO PICCIOLI, MAISON VALENTINO HAS ONCE AGAIN BLOSSOMED INTO ONE OF THE GREATEST FASHION EMPIRES.
For almost fifty years, the Italian fashion house has been inspiring men and women the world over. Rather than being devoted to short-lived trends, from the outset, Valentino was a devout believer in timelessly elegant gowns, characterised by opulence and femininity. "I know what women want," said Valentino Garavani. "They want to be beautiful." Famous actresses, celebrities and royals are still loyal customers. The current head designers have even managed to roll out that red carpet look to the street - there is not a single street-style photographer who can ignore Valentino's beautiful clothes, accessories and gowns.
LA DOLCE VITA
Together with his business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino Garavani founded Valentino SpA in Rome and opened an 'alta moda' studio along the lines of French haute couture ateliers. Responsibilities were clearly defined from the outset - with Garavani as the creative head and Giammetti as the businessman. "There are only three things I can do - make a dress, decorate a house, and entertain people." Valentino once said. Valentino collections focused on exquisite craftsmanship, high-quality materials and exclusive detailing like beading and pleats. The shop in Via Condutti quickly caught the attention of wealthy tourists who were actually looking for the locations used in the film La Dolce Vita. Initially, the two business partners received financial support from Garavani's parents, but they were soon able to manage without it.
Just a few years after it was launched, the house started to achieve international success. At a time when the fashion was mainly for psychedelic colours, Valentino presented a collection free of intense colours, featuring shades of white, cream, chalk, sand, ecru and beige. He quickly attracted attention for his elegant differentness. The sophistication and beauty of his creations generated gushing enthusiasm among critics and triggered an "all white" movement within the fashion scene. Orders flooded in from around the world. In a note to him after a personal dress order, Diana Vreeland, the legendary Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, wrote: "Even at birth, genius always stands out. I see genius in you. Good luck."
His shows became glamorous social events. As well as dressing celebrities like Begum Aga Khan, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, the fashion house also dressed Jackie Kennedy. She wore Valentino for her wedding with Aristotle Onassis, and remained a loyal customer for many years. "Whenever I would come to New York, I would make two telephone calls", Garavani said later. "The first was to Diana Vreeland. The second was to Jackie."
Valentino continued to expand the label's lines well into the 1980s, with a highly successful denim line, a ready-to-wear collection for younger customers, and with additional accessories, eye wear, perfumes and watches. With his second couture collection, which he showed in Paris in1989, Valentino finally succeeded in becoming one of the first Italian designers to establish themselves in France. Valentino red - the label's hallmark colour - has been an integral part of every collection.
In 1998, Valentino sold his company for 270 million euros. In order to retain an influence over the brand, he had a 5-year contract drawn up naming him as consultant and head designer. At the turn of the millennium, the fashion house was in the red and was sold again. The new owner, the Italian Marzotto group, founded the Valentino Fashion Group and extended Garavani's contract for another five years.
Garavani announced his final retirement as the company celebrated 45 years in business. An investment company had acquired the majority stake in the Valentino Fashion Group and this time his contract as a designer was not extended. Supermodels including Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Eva Herzigova honoured him by returning to show at his last haute couture show. Speaking about his retirement, Garavani said "I am especially grateful that I have been able to keep my own style over the decades, in spite of the many changes that have taken place in the world of fashion and in its business." More than any other designer, he stood for elegance of clothing, for timeless classics.
At that time, the Valentino company found itself deep in crisis and hoped for improvement with Italian designer Alessandra Facchinetti. She had previously had success working under Tom Ford at Gucci. However, her unconventional collections scared off loyal Valentino customers and she was released after just three collections. Valentino's business partner Giancarlo Giammetti said of her work "To pretend to transform and revolutionise the Valentino style is a utopia which is a loss from the start. Valentino's style is very strong and recognisable which can only be taken forward, with necessary updating, by those who love it, respect it and above all know it perfectly."
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli perfectly meet these demanding criteria. Having worked for many years as assistants and accessories designers at Valentino, they are both better acquainted with the fashion house's material and style than any other possible successor. Garavani was pleased with the new choice, saying "Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli are two serious capable professionals that I had alongside me for many years. They always demonstrated an enormous respect and love for my work. I wish them all the success." As a mark of mutual respect, Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti now sit in the front row at every fashion show.
Under the duo's creative direction, a new generation of "Val gals" has emerged - exceptional young women who embody sophistication and glamour, just as they did in the heyday of the grand master. Chiuri and Piccioli have brought a breath of fresh air to maison Valentino, whilst respecting the legacy of its founder. "They are the same elements, but with a new attitude", says Chiuri. "It's cool, modern, contemporary" adds Piccioli.
Company founder Valentino Garavani has a reputation as a jet setter and bon vivant. His home in Rome and his T.M. Blue One yacht have been a draw for famous friends from around the world since the 1980s.
Together with his business partner, architecture student Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino Garavani founds Valentino SpA in Rome and opens an 'alta moda' studio along the lines of French haute couture ateliers. Garavani is the creative head of the company, Giammetti manages the business element.
Two years after it is founded, the fashion house begins to find international success at the Pitti Fashion Fair in Florence. At the height of the fashion for psychedelic colours, Valentino's début show is a "no colours" collection dominated by shades of white, cream, chalk, sand, ecru and beige. It attracts the attention of high society, stars and the nobility.
Garavani wins the the prestigious Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for his début collection. His shows are now held in his own salon and have become glamorous social events. As well as dressing celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, the fashion house even clothes Jackie Kennedy. In the same year, the designer develops his famous logo, the V monogram. Appearing on clothing, shoes and belts, it quickly becomes the brand's coveted badge.
The brand is expanded to include a ready-to-wear line, and fur and accessories lines for the American market. More boutiques open in New York and Tokyo. A men's boutique opens in Rome, and he launches an interior décor line.
Garavani's fashion shows take place in Paris rather than Milan. The Valentino brand evolves into an international fashion empire.
The first denim line is launched, and just over one million pairs of jeans are sold in the first year. Demand is so great that the small boutiques can barely cope with the rush of customers.
Valentino's new ready-to-wear line for younger customers - named Oliver, after the designer's favourite pug - is shown in Milan. The New York Times says, "The younger, livelier label has a rather sexy style of tailoring with curved jackets and side-draped skirts ". In the same year, the "Académie Valentino" opens in Rome. It is a cultural centre for art exhibitions and cultural activities.
Garavani sells his company for a total of 270 million euros to the Italian conglomerate HdP (Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali). However, he wants to retain creative input, so he signs a five-year contract as consultant and head designer at the house.
The fashion house is in the red. HdP sells the company to the Italian Marzotto group a year later, for 240 million euros.
The Valentino Fashion Group is founded and Garavani's contract as head designer is extended for another five years.
Garavani announces his retirement from the company as it celebrates 45 years in business. When the investment company Permira acquires a majority stake in Valentino Fashion Group mid-way through the year, his contract as a designer for the brand is not extended.
The last haute couture show under Garavani's creative direction takes place. Supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Eva Herzigova take to the runway for him. It is also his last appearance at the end of a fashion show. It is the perfect time for him to leave the fashion stage. At the time of his resignation, the company is in deep crisis. To save the brand, Permira passes a large part of the debt burden to its stronger German subsidiary, Hugo Boss.
Italian designer Alessandra Facchinetti succeeds Garavani. She has previously had success working under Tom Ford at Gucci. She demonstrates a very individual style that puts off Valentino's followers and does not have much in common with the heritage of the design house.
She is released after just three collections. Commenting on her departure, Valentino's business partner Giancarlo Giammetti says, "I think it is a wise decision."
A duo from within the company's own ranks takes over. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli have been assistants and accessories designers for many years, which means that they are familiar with the material and style of the house. They are still leading the maison today. They have a modern approach, but remain true to the style of its founder and have turned the fashion house into a leading international brand.
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