Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani was born in the Lombardy region of Italy in 1932. His fashion education began in Paris as he studied at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, at a time when Paris dominated the industry. After graduation, he took apprenticeships at the fashion houses of Jacques Fath and Cristóbal Balenciaga. Thereafter, he worked in roles for Parisian couturier Jean Desses and then later Guy Laroche. Following a disagreement with Laroche, Valentino established his own fashion house in 1959 in Rome.
Valentino would become the forefather of Italian fashion, which only had its beginnings in the 1950s. His designs were swiftly endorsed by prominent celebrities, such as the Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor, who invested in a dress from his debut collection. Prominence and success in the international market soon followed, and Jacqueline Kennedy, an American First Lady, became a devotee of the Valentino brand. The notoriety gained by celebrity endorsement boosted the brand.
Valentino was able to capitalize on his acute understanding of both the fashion market and the power of exceptional design. He anticipated the growth of ready-to-wear in the late 1970s, opening international stores and holding a ready-to-wear show in Paris. Acclaimed for the synthesis he achieved between elegant craftsmanship, understated luxury, and subtle femininity, his designs incorporated elaborate pleating, embroideries, bows, animal prints, and appliqué. Valentino was famed for the prominent use of black throughout his collections, yet it was his use of a bright, poppy red—often referred to as “Valentino red”—that became an emblem of the brand.
Commended for his talent, Valentino was awarded the prestigious Neiman Marcus Award in 1987 and an Order of Merit from the Italian government in 1985. Dedicating almost a lifetime to his craft, the Council for Fashion Designers of America gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, when he was aged sixty-eight.
In 2007, the company was acquired by Permira Advisers, a private equity firm. Subsequently, Valentino retired in 2008, with a farewell show presented at the Musée Rodin in Paris. The company continues to exist under the Valentino name and has maintained its status as an authority in the fashion world. Valentino himself continues to engage with the fashion industry and his contribution to the field is celebrated with exhibitions, awards, and a virtual museum—the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum.
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