RED, LIKE VALENTINO
That color somewhere between ruby red, purple and cadmium red, nowadays as eternal as the reds of Titian. Elegance as a pact between energy and regality that links the history of international fashion to its creator.
It all began when, as a young man at the Barcelona Opera House, Valentino Garavani first saw the beauty hidden within colors: “There were red outfits on stage, the women wore red gowns and they stuck-out like geraniums on balconies, and the armchairs and curtains were in red (…) I understood then that after black and white, there was no more beautiful color.”
And so since then he has never ceased to introduce into his collections at least one dress in that shade. He did so on the catwalk in 2008 in Paris, and again at the farewell ceremony at the colosseum with ballerinas flying across the sky of a Rome dressed in red. He repeats it daily with red roses that grow at his French residence, Wideville Castle. That red, in the last fifty years, has become timeless and never banal, throughout fashion and with the admiration of everyone, creating a tonal icon that is identified not just as red, but as Valentino Red. In Genesis, the significance attributed to the color red is of being the spirit from which life itself derives - an elegiac color, identified and imitated by many by way of its weight and sensuality that even today is immediately recognisable. Right from the very first shows hosted by the fashion house captained by Garavani, staged in the early sixties in the Pitti Palace, his use of color was out of the ordinary, a combination of a chiaroscuro of unusual tonality, and wonderful shades which all came together into a mixture of ruby, purple and cadmium. If, since 1959 - the year that the first Atelier opened in Rome at No. 15 via dei Condotti - trends have varied due to continuing socio-political changes, red continues to represent elegance in all the prestigious collections by Valentino who always strove to produce garments that could be worn by women simply, every day, on any occasion.
The seventies were the years where Valentino’s women wore long trapeze dresses, chiffon cocktail frocks and transparency arrived unexpectedly on the catwalk, collections becoming more sumptuous while still retaining their typical elegance. And when in the seventies there was a rise in social unrest, it was mirrored in Valentino’s work by sometimes asymmetrical cuts, the eighties saw the appearance of sophisticated businesswomen wearing garments with the shoulders emphasized, especially so with two-piece suits. As fashions changed and became more or less affluent according to social changes, the Valentino dress evolved decade after decade, remaining always extremely stylish, linear cuts, vamp dresses with drapery cut directly on the model’s body, dresses with plunging necklines at the back and hourglass figures. Forms, deliberately outrageous, but still balanced and reaching perfect harmony of proportion, giving his designs a “classic” look.
There is style in Valentino’s world, but also research, training, references to the world of art and, above all, the desire to create garments which go beyond being simply clothes.
Some of society’s most important women have worn his creations, dyed with that figure-hugging red which transforms them into the dresses of dreams. When Valentino was asked to remember the most important red dress that he had been commissioned to design for a special occasion, he didn’t hesitate: “For Jackie Kennedy during an evening at the
It was 1962 when a young Valentino debuted his first collection at the Pitti in Florence: it was the consecration of an international couturier.
Metropolitan Museum of New York after she came out of mourning for her husband. I designed her a dress in stiff red silk with a large skirt with lots of pleats”. Eight actresses have received an Oscar while dressed in one of Valentino’s creations and
he has dressed some of the most important personalities in the world: “I adore Marion Cotillard and Emma Stone but I’m forever tied to good friends Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman and, of course, that superstar: Meryl Streep”.
He adores the women he has dressed, especially the high class ladies from early in his career but he is enjoying the new millennium because: “Now everybody loves haute couture”. In 2001, Julia Roberts took the Oscar for “Erin Brockovich” dressed in a black-and-white gown which will become a legend, it was a moment that Valentino describes as one of the most memorable of his career.
He has dressed the cinema and now cinema has immortalized him with an American film-documentary called “Valentino: The Last Emperor” directed by Matt Tyrnauer and filmed over two years in which the director with his camera have been filming Valentino and his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti. Two people who have been loved and admired for fifty years and who together have built an empire, changed the world of fashion and defined what “Made in Italy” means, becoming icons and ambassadors for Italian style and for modern Italy.
Valentino has always striven for perfection and, as two of his collaborators, Piera Sensi and Franco Rossi remembered in the book “Rosso Valentino”, he always assumed the attitude of a composer who jots down ideas like musical notation: having arrived he just had to take out of his pocket some sketches which his assistants were capable of transforming into finished designs. From these he drew out paper templates before setting them out on the famous white “canvas”: the proper sketches of the dresses were then submitted to the ‘Maestro’ who by now was at his desk. Working with pins he formed shape and bulk in a fascinating progression which left his assistants agog. Once the masterpiece could be said to have been completed, all his team would race to show their admiration. Perfection, always perfection.
His last collection was shown in Paris in January
2008, and was a difficult farewell, but “This emptiness which I thought overwhelming, passed very quickly. It was exactly the right moment to end a career that has brought me happiness, fame and fortune. If I’d continued, I would not have been able to work with the current changes where everything is profit-driven and controlled by finance alone”. Not that he didn’t enjoy the money, but he couldn’t bear the thought of losing the dream and facing reality. With this great farewell to the fashion industry after an honourable forty-five year career the brand gave way to the creations of the Creative Director Alessandra Facchinetti and later to those of the much more winning duo Chiuri-piccioli. In the latter part of 2014 they will show in Shanghai the collection
In 1967 he won two prizes: The Neiman Marcus Award in Dallas, equivalent to an Oscar for fashion, and the Martha Award in Palm Beach. Grand Official of the Order of Merit, Order of the Great Cross, Order of Merit for Work and in 2006 he received the French Legion of Honor.
NO SEASON with a theme in a thousand different tones of red which will revive an unpublished selection of gowns.
There is no shortage or red in the latest chapter of Valentino’s life, a red rejected in his original masterpieces, but very elegant and combined with an innovative punk spirit for the women of today. Miles from the fashion world of 2007 and in comfortable retirement, Valentino today, continues to be the artist he always was, but with a lifestyle more private and reserved. He lives in France and in this interview, he confessed that he rises late of a morning, and only drinks a single glass of wine per day, prays a lot, has never used a tablet computer and adores his family, made up of grandchildren, lots of friends and of course, Giancarlo Giammetti with whom he has shared his entire existence full of joy and pain and enthusiasm. As for his dream, after so much work and so much worldwide acclaim, Rome, the Eternal City is still central to him, Rome, the only place where he truly feels at home: “I’m expecting the city to give me space to build my museum, it’s something that I feel I’ve earned and that I would like to give to all Romans”.