There is probably no more conceivably fabulous way of kicking off New York Fashion Week than with an elegant luncheon honoring designer Valentino Garavani (also, when else in the coming week are you actually going to eat lunch?), so torrential rain Wednesday morning didn’t keep a cadre of chic and loyal ladies from heading to the David H. Koch Theater for the Museum at FIT’s Couture Council event, which this year bestowed its Artistry of Fashion award on the Italian couturier.
The theater’s lower level hosted a jam-packed crowd, whose ratio of those wearing the designer’s signature red was easily one in five, while Valentino himself spent most of his time installed near a step and repeat, swallowed by reporters, hangers on and his beloved gals.
“I’m just a lady in waiting,” joked Valerie Steele as she waited for FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown to finish being introduced to and posing with Valentino.
“He’s an amazing designer. He’s one of the few who have lasted so long and made women feel beautiful, myself included,” gushed Andrea Dellal, who was showing her support for current Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccicoli by wearing one of their delicate dresses (unsurprisingly, Valentino the brand was the day’s major sponsor).
Mr. Garavani, sporting a perpetual tan and a seemingly ageless physique, demurred on the question of his own longevity.
“It would be very pretentious of me to say it, but I’ve been helped by God because I always loved designing beautiful clothes for women and I did it with such great joy and love that women, they adore it,” he said. “And every time I am around they say, why you don’t come back? Why you don’t give us new clothes?”
Fortunately, most of the ladies in attendance had found other ways to get dressed, whether digging into their Val archives, or otherwise. As the gong sounded for lunch, luncheon chair Diane von Furstenberg arrived just in time, joining co-chair Charlotte Moss, Alexandra Lebenthal, Eddie Borgo, Fe Fendi, Zani Gugelmann, Ivanka Trump, Liliana Dominguez, Melania Trump, Dennis Basso, Lisa Perry, Patricia Duff and Lizzie Tisch. Kobe Bryant inexplicably milled around with his wife and posed for an iPhone photo with Valentino.
Julia Koch and Shala Monroque kept Chiuri and Piccicoli company at their table, while Valentino was flanked by von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour, along with Marisa Berenson and Daphne Guinness, another chair and the subject of an upcoming exhibit at the Museum at FIT this month.
Guinness provided something of an exhibit herself, arriving in what appeared to be a cross between a nurse’s habit and French maid chic, an extra dark stripe running through her platinum updo. She looked divine. And perhaps inspired by her outfit, or Valentino’s presence, she spent most of the lunch bent over her table setting, a hand delicately clutching her head, as if in prayer. Needless to say, little food seemed to pass through her lips.
Simon Doonan gave an introductory speech, calling out the need for more energy from young designers today.
“They are, dare I say it, a little too earnest. They lack the fabulosity of Valentino. My fantasy is that Valentino will open his own Academe de Fabulosity, as a kind of male Miss Jean Brodie. Lesson one, arriving a your Roman palazzo,” he intoned, to much laughter, before passing the torch to Wintour, who presented Valentino with his award.
“When we think of Roman gods, a single means of address was good enough for them,” she said of his one word moniker, going on to describe the source of his legend, before adding, “His greatest acts tend to go unseen. He and Giancarlo have long been devoted to the fight against HIV and AIDS.”
Valentino received a standing ovation on his walk to the podium.
“Fashion must be free and not constrained by commercial interests. For fifty years, I have had the privilege to dress American women. American women are the first to accept new trends and new names,” he said, also saluting America’s generosity to the world at large.
But inasmuch as the day was about Valentino, Valentino, it was Karl Lagerfeld, the recipient of last year’s award, who had the last word, via a note he wrote to Valentino.
“He wanted to dress the most beautiful and elegant women in the world and he dressed them,” said Lagerfeld in writing. “For him, the essence of beauty was more important than fashion. Voltaire said it is not enough to know how to conquer, you must know how to seduce. He knows how to do both.”
Photos: Nick Hunt/ PMC