Happy Birthday Valentino!
Valentino Garavani, the great master of Italian fashion turns 90
On 11 May 1932, in the most important town of the Oltrepò Pavese, Voghera, Valentino Garavani was born, one of the most talented and successful couturiers, synonymous with absolute elegance, the designer who has dressed the entire jet set, from Jackie Kennedy to Julia Roberts, and who has made a colour, red, a symbol: Valentino Red.
To celebrate the genius of haute couture, we put our hand to our archives and dusted off this interview born from our meeting with the designer on Capri, an island dear to Valentino, in June 2006. Best wishes Maestro!
It’s just another Thursday evening in June. It’s 7 pm. Italy’s most exclusive “living room” has just been emptied out of colored Bermuda shorts, flip flops, caps and backpacks.
The sun is going down and the air is filled with Capri’s typical aromas. Muffled noise. A reversal of the scenario. Only if you focus on the passers-by, you notice that hidden among the tourists dressed up for the “aperitivo” and the locals going home from work but incredibly shipshape from head to toe (in particular, Caprese women seem to be blessed with their ancient Roman ancestresses’ simple style: no make-up, subdued colors, natural yet neat hairdos), there are well-known faces. Very well-known. But there is no hustle and bustle. Just a sense of comfort.
One of them is taking a walk with some friends. Then we spot him again on the Quisisana’s pleasantly-crowded terrace. Nothing blends more perfectly with this naturally sophisticated environment than Valentino’s barely visible elegance.
Our interview is interspersed with bits and pieces of the great couturier’s story, because his adventures in the fashion world are worth to be told.
Your first time in Capri…
My first time was in 1960, on holidays from Paris where I used to study fashion and then work . Since then, Capri has always had a very special place in my heart.
It was 11 pm of a hot summer night, on July 31st 1960, and Valentino and friends walked in the Café Paris, in Via Veneto. The tables were all taken, except one with a young man seated at it. He was a student in architecture who was killing time while waiting for the disco club to open. They took a seat with him. At dead of night, the student took Valentino home in his car. They were at ease with one another, and went on talking and talking. A few days later, they met again in Capri. And from that day, they never left each other. That student was Giancarlo Giammetti who would become Valentino’s manager, communication man, family. Giammetti’s help proved to be invaluable.
You have dressed the most beautiful women in the world, but above all you have enabled women all the world over to dress in a feminine and elegant way, due to a style that emphasizes and respects their essential being. Was this the intention or just genius?
During my long career, my sole intention was to enhance , embellish and proclaim femininity and romance in a woman. I guess it was a wise direction to follow and I was rewarded with so much success through 45 years of hard work.
He was the last designer of the show to send his creations down Palazzo Pitti’s runway, but there was a thundering applause and the entire collection was sold out in just an hour. He was inundated with orders. It was the year 1962. But that was not his last monumental success of the year. One night, at a party, a black organza outfit attracted the attention of Jackie Kennedy. She loved it and wanted to know who had designed it. From that day on, she became one of Valentino’s best clients and friends. Even Diana Vreeland, and Audrey Hepburn submitted to his irresistible charm. Farah Diba fled her country in Valentino. Liz Taylor met Richard Burton while wearing a Valentino dress. Jackie wore mostly Valentino creations, even the day she married Onassis in 1968.
Is there any particular season, time or place in Capri that you would consider “spiritual”?
I used to come often when I still had my house, La Cercola, for Easter . It was very cozy to enjoy this special Italian holiday on the island. Nowadays I only come in late spring , early summer with my yacht. It is always a definite pit stop in my cruise because it is a unique island in the world. The air is special, the familiar faces strolling around, the Piazzetta . You do not find places like this very easy.
In 1968, Valentino bought a villa in Capri, La Cercola, which, in the late 1800s, had belonged to John Ellingham and Romaine Brooks (a talented painter who seduced both D’Annunzio and Isadora Duncan) and had welcomed special guests such as the writer William Somerset Maugham and Marchesa Luisa Casati. He bought a red motorboat on which the most elegant young men from Rome travelled from Naples to Capri on weekends.
The best gift that life has given you.
To have confidence in my thoughts and intuition.
He totally masters his art and craftsmanship has always been his forte, even when, in 1978, he launched his first prêt-a-porter line. And up to 2007, the year he retired from the fashion scene in grand style, his success has been immune to the ups and downs of fashion business.
Your most satisfying achievement?
To have loving and close friends in my life.
His is a family business. Dressmakers who have been working with the Maestro for over three decades or managers who ask Valentino to stand godfather to their children, are common in the atelier of Palazzo Manganelli, to the side of Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
Which is the one quality without which Valentino Garavani would not feel Valentino?
Talent and self-confidence.
When he emerged to take runway bow at his last show in Rome, he stopped for a moment in front of his colleagues in the first row: Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Donatella Versace, Diane von Fustenberg and Zac Posen. In spite of the many differences between them, they were all there to pay homage to the last member of a great generation of high-fashion designers.
What is absolutely essential in the wardrobe of somebody going on holiday to Capri?
A pair of white slacks, a blue shirt and espadrilles.
The polka dots, the ribbon, the rose, the black and white, the little coat, the black petite robe, are a few of the 18 leitmotifs that have made Valentino a paragon of style. But one beats them all. 0% cyan, 100% magenta, 100% yellow, 10% black: Valentino red.