Not that the man could very well disappear entirely from the fashion and social radar. First he headed to Rio with a gaggle of his intimates—Tamara Beckwith, Georgina Brandolini and Tim Jeffries among them—to celebrate Giammetti’s birthday and take in Carnaval’s delights. Then Valentino, who had a retrospective in Rome last July, plunged into his vast archive once more for another exhibition set to open in June, this time at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. He’ll also be facing the flashbulbs in May, if Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, makes its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. And after that another huge project awaits: a permanent Valentino fashion museum in Rome in a Twenties-era building that formerly housed a fish market.
Asked about other retirement plans at Valentino’s gilded Paris headquarters, a postcard-perfect view of Place Vendôme visible through its windows, the designer demurs: “It’s so brand-new, I cannot tell you.... Maybe when I’m in the Mediterranean on my boat, instead of three, four days, I can stay more.” Still, his list of possibilities goes far beyond leisure pursuits and includes a strong desire to design costumes for ballet and opera, about which he is passionate. “I would love to do La Traviata, I have to tell you,” he says enthusiastically. During a swing through Moscow in February, the designer met with Anatoly Iksanov, general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, about designing costumes for its productions.
Born in Rome in 1932, Valentino Garavani was obsessed with fashion and glamour from an early age. He moved to Paris at 17 to study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, going on to work for Jean Desses and Guy Laroche before returning to his hometown and founding a couture house on the Via Condotti that would ultimately become one of the most famous and luxurious in the world. In 1998 he and Giammetti sold their company, by then an empire of ready-to-wear and licensed products, to the Italian conglomerate HdP for $300 million.
Recent years, however, have been tumultuous ones for the Valentino company, which was later sold to Marzotto SpA and is now controlled by the European private equity firm Permira. And though Giammetti stresses that they have good relationships with the new owners, he acknowledges that it’s an opportune time for the designer and him to bow out. “Fashion is no longer such a challenge; it’s more about thinking about the bottom line,” he says, his swept-back shock of silver hair a perfect foil for his chalk-striped suit. “The choice of Mr. Valentino was right for him, and right for me, as well.”
Valentino’s current management appointed Alessandra Facchinetti, a Roman designer who cut her teeth under Tom Ford at Gucci and more recently heated up down-jacket specialist Moncler with her Gamme Rouge range, to be Valentino’s successor. To be sure, Facchinetti has big—not to mention bespoke and perfectly polished—shoes to fill. Beyond the unimpeachable elegance of Valentino’s fashion looms an impossibly extravagant lifestyle that fed the designer’s dream: his château with its million roses; art-stuffed apartments in Rome, London and New York; the chalet in Gstaad; the 152-foot yacht with a Peter Marino interior.