Designer Valentino Prepares to Retire

(AP Photo/Jacques Brinon) :: Models wear creations by Italian fashion designer Valentino for his Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2008 collection presented in Paris Wednesday Jan. 23, 2008. Celebrities, socialites and fashion editors prepare to bid adieu to Italian designer Valentino, the king of the red carpet, who shows his final collection Wednesday after 45 years in business.

Updated: 1/30/2008


Valentino, who has dressed royalty, first ladies and movie stars in his signature flaming red dresses and tasteful couture, unveils his swan song collection Wednesday.

The Italian designer, who outfitted Julia Roberts the night she took home the Oscar and designed the wedding gown worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, retires this week after 45 years in the fashion business.

Screen legend Sophia Loren summed up Valentino's appeal with the words, ''Femininity and glamour and beautiful things!'' and said she has mixed feelings about his retirement.

''I think it's up to him to decide what he wants to do in his own life,'' she told The Associated Press. ''What I feel about it? I'm a little bit sad, because he is one of the greatest.''

Born Valentino Garavani in 1932 in Voghera, Italy, the designer spent much of his teenage years in the local cinema admiring leading ladies like Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner.

''I was crazy about film stars,'' Valentino told The Times of London last year. ''All my life I was fascinated to see a beautiful woman coming down the staircase in a long gown. This was my dream since I was a child and it is for this reason that I am a designer.''

At 17, he persuaded his parents to let him move to Paris, where he studied at the Fine Arts School and at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, French fashion's governing body.

During apprenticeships at Jean Desses and Guy Laroche, Valentino demonstrated his skill for sketching and met influential style icons such as the countess Jacqueline de Ribes.

In 1959, he set up shop on his own in Rome, opening a salon on the prestigious via Condotti with backing from his father.

A year later, he met Giancarlo Giammetti, the man who would help him build an empire. The two were a couple for 12 years and remain inseparable.

Valentino had his big breakthrough in Florence in 1962. His show was a hit and soon he was dressing Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn and other style icons of the era.

The 1970s seemed tailor-made for Valentino. Fashion was free and flirty, and life was fun as he partied at the legendary Studio 54 nightclub in New York and hung out with Andy Warhol.

Valentino was not fond of the 1980s, with its bouffant hairstyles and big shoulder pads, and even less of the grunge trend that followed. But throughout, he managed to win over new fans by staying true to his mantra: keep a woman looking her best.

Despite his aversion for fads, Valentino has consistently won over new fans, dressing Nancy Reagan and, in recent years, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, Naomi Watts and Lindsay Lohan.

It helped that unlike Saint Laurent, Valentino was never tempted by substance abuse. A workaholic who often sketches late into the evening, he has always maintained an iron grip on his health and image.

With his perpetual tan and perfectly coiffed hair, the impeccably dressed Valentino has long been a favorite of Hollywood — and something of a good luck charm come Oscar time. Cate Blanchett won Best Supporting Actress in 2005 for ''The Aviator,'' wearing a pale yellow one-shouldered gown Valentino made for her.

Julia Roberts won best actress for ''Erin Brockovich'' in 2001 wearing a vintage black-and-white velvet column dress with white straps forming a ''Y'' down the front.

After a cameo in the 2006 movie ''The Devil Wears Prada,'' Valentino is scheduled to hit the big screen again this year in ''Valentino: The Last Emperor,'' a documentary directed by Vanity Fair special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer.

Last year, British-based private equity firm Permira bought the Valentino Fashion Group — which also includes the Hugo Boss and Marlboro Classics labels — for $3.8 billion. It has appointed Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly of Gucci, to continue designing the women's line.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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