The Couture Council of Fashion Institute of Technology presented Italian designer Valentino Garavani with the 2011 Couture Council Award for artistry, this September at Lincoln Center. We reproduce here a piece that was written when the designer announced his retirement in September 2007.
He’s named after one and his signature red has been called everything from lipstick to Pompeian (and it still eludes description), but what makes uber designer Valentino Garavani a red-hot lover is simply this: His work, and life, is sheer seduction.
Valentino marked 45 years this year (2007) in the industry and soon after announced his retirement to a shocked and dare we say, grieving public. No more siren dresses in a red that transcends the stuff that runs in your veins? No more black, tiered ensembles with glittering bows that adore a woman’s body? No more blazing white bandage dresses slashed till there that can make a strong man believe in love? Impossible. It really is, because every Valentino creation is timeless, classically proportioned, revered in the details. Ask Julia Roberts who won her Oscar, and fashionista status for once, in a black gown with white stripes that gathered to a point and flared down her back like moonbeams. Her small niece advised her to make sure she turned around on the red carpet; even she knew the dress would be spoken of down the ages.
Ask supermodels and actresses who came to pay homage at Valentino’s Rome celebrations, from Claudia Schiffer to Sarah Jessica Parker who was to describe it afterwards as “the most glamorous fashion show of all time”.
For those with long memories, all that is needed is a mental image of the candid photograph of Valentino walking with Jackie O (he designed her Kennedy mourning clothes and ironically enough, her wedding dress when she shocked the world by marrying Onassis). His sartorial genius has always been complemented by his ease with other self-confident icons. Gwyneth Paltrow has taken over Jackie’s role as confidante and disciple as he translates his vision of how women can appear magical, as Angelica Huston once called his designs, with how any successful individual should spend his off days.
Valentino embraces luxury as though this world’s material beauty is all there is, wise man. His homes are palaces, a Gstaad villa or two and a powerful yacht, all sublimely decorated and enjoyed by the inner circle that moves everywhere with him as well as those he finds interesting enough to invite for a good, old-fashioned gossip. He surrounds himself with things of beauty, both corporeal and not, covering Basquiats and Picassos, sublime finds and furnishings.
Perhaps he seduces us because he is constantly seduced. Perhaps when we wear him, we’re hoping to regain glamour, that which he so effortlessly bestows on every silhouette that comes dancing out of his atelier. In the end, perhaps we’re hoping, through a kind of osmosis, to simply regain our love of life. Not a bad lesson to learn from a fashion designer.
Sheba Thayil is a journalist and writer. She was born in Bombay, brought up in Hong Kong, and exiled to Bangalore. While editing, writing and working in varied places like The Economic Times, Gulf Daily News, New Indian Express and Cosmopolitan, it is the movies and books, she says, that have always sustained her.