The mononymously known Italian designer Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani (b. 1932) is renowned for his fashion house of romantic styles and feminine shapes that he founded in Rome in 1960.
An early fascination with fashion developed when Valentino attended the theater as a child and was dazzled by the evening gowns on stage. While a teenager in Voghera, Lombardy, he studied under Italian designer Ernestina Salvadeo and soon moved to Paris, where he trained at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Valentino spent time apprenticing under haute couturiers Jean Dessès and Guy Laroche, learning how to design and construct high fashion while also thinking about how to strike out on his own.
In 1959, Valentino returned to Italy, and a year later, he opened his own salon, soon joining with longtime professional and personal partner Giancarlo Giammetti. It was located on Rome’s trendy Via Condotti and modeled after the French maisons. One of his earliest clients was Elizabeth Taylor, who discovered Valentino while she was in Rome filming Cleopatra and ordered the white dress that she wore to the premiere of Spartacus. When the designer launched his first couture line in 1962 with its fiery red colors, it was internationally celebrated, with Valentino soon attiring fashion trendsetters including Princess Margaret and Audrey Hepburn. He formed an especially close friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for whom he designed numerous dresses. Luxurious drapery with fine needlework, bold uses of color and dramatic flourishes would define Valentino fashion across the decades.
As a fashion house, Valentino is best known for its signature Valentino Red color, though one of its iconic lines is the monochromatic “no colour” collection for which the designer won the Neiman Marcus Award in 1967. (The collection also debuted his trademark “V.”) The white and beige dresses led to a demand for Valentino wedding gowns, with clients including Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Lopez and Anne Hathaway. Valentino retired from his fashion empire in 2007, with Alessandra Facchinetti and then the duo Maria Grazia Chiuri (who departed in 2016) and Pierpaolo Piccioli succeeding him as creative directors. But Valentino still steps out of retirement for special occasions, such as designing a wedding gown for Princess Madeleine of Sweden in 2013. Today, the brand has expanded far beyond women’s haute couture and prêt-à-porter to encompass various lines of accessories, including shoes, sunglasses, scarves and perfume.