So what does a Roman couture legend who has worked day in, day out sketching beautiful dresses for almost half a century do the day after his retirement show?
“Certainly I am not the sort of person to be sitting all day long watching television,” Valentino says, pursing his lips extra tightly.
Instead, the morning after an army of models in red gowns streamed down the runway in his farewell show, held in a cathedral-like tent at the Musée Rodin, the designer was strolling into the soaring, neo-Renaissance splendor of the Salon des Arcades at Paris’s City Hall. Karl Lagerfeld was at his side, and after he received a medal of the city from a fawning Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who addressed him affectionately as “cher maestro,” Valentino quoted a song made famous by Josephine Baker.
“I have two loves, my country and Paris,” Valentino said in Italian-accented French as a thunderstorm of flashbulbs erupted before him.
A page of fashion history definitely turned when Valentino became only the second, after Yves Saint Laurent, of a batch of seventy-something design greats—Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Oscar de la Renta are among the others—to hang up his seasoned scissors. If it seemed an occasion that called for emotions of the moist variety, Valentino and his longtime business partner and alter ego, Giancarlo Giammetti, would have none of it.
“Happy, happy! Not sad at all! It is not a collection with tears in between,” Valentino insists when asked about his swan-song show, chockablock with frothy summer dresses worn with big hats or matching gloves handpainted with floral fantasies. “I leave with great joy in a certain way, because I leave after 45 years on top of my career.”
“It was exactly what we wanted: a grand and very nice retirement and not a funeral,” is Giammetti’s take on the January evening, which concluded with a private dinner at the designer’s château, the 17th-century Domaine de Wideville, marked by boozy but not overly sentimental speeches. There were about 130 guests, Valentino’s usual mix of actresses, royals, jetsetters and assorted family members.
Rumbles about Valentino’s retirement started last year, when three unfathomably glamorous days in Rome were devoted to celebrating the 45th anniversary of his fashion house. That meant everything from aerial acrobatics and fireworks at the foot of the Colosseum to a lavish black-tie dinner on the grounds of the Villa Borghese, where guests were treated to views of rare Caravaggios and Canovas, as well as a surprise concert by Annie Lennox. Closing the circle, Lennox’s “No More I Love Yous” was the soundtrack in Paris for the designer’s final bow and signature stiff-armed, all-in-the-wrist wave.