On May 11, 1932, Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani, best known as the designer Valentino, was born in Voghera, Lombardy, in northern Italy. During his primary school years, Valentino discovered a love for fashion, and became apprentice to both his aunt Rosa and Italian designer Ernestina Salvadeo, who was aunt of the famous artist Aldo Giorgini. Shortly afterward, Valentino was encouraged by his mother and father to move to Paris to pursue a design career.
In Paris, Valentino attended the distinguished fine art school École des Beaux-Arts and at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Valentino furthered his study of design in apprenticeships with influential designers Jaques Fath and Balenciaga, as well as one with Jean Desses, where he sketched dress ideas for Countess Jacqueline de Ribes. Valentino split his time at Jean Desses by sketching feverishly between greeting guests who would arrive for the daily afternoon showing. He left Jean Desses to join the Guy Laroche fashion house, where he stayed for two years. Valentino then returned to Italy, where, with the backing of his father and an associate, he opened his own fashion house in 1960. Valentino’s new fashion house was on the popular and fashionable Via Condotti in Rome. The Valentino fashion house had a grandeur reminiscent of the ones found in Paris, and Valentino even had models flown in from Paris for his first show.
In 1962, Valentino made his international debut at the Pitti Palace in Florence, the then fashion capital. This debut show was a success for Valentino, who immediately became inundated with orders from international buyers as well as attention from the press. Increasingly popular was the vibrant shade of red that Valentino used often in his designs, a shade that would later be coined “Valentino Red.” As his star rose, Valentino gained international attention from ladies on the best-dressed lists around the world, including his long-time associate from Paris, Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, and well-known New York socialites Babe Paley and Jayne Wrightsman.
In 1964, Valentino’s creations caught the eye of Jacqueline Kennedy, who saw Gloria Schiff (socialite and twin of American Vogue’s editor at the time, Consuelo Crespi) at an event wearing an alluring two-piece outfit made of black organza. Mrs. Kennedy was so enthralled with the fashionable garb that she contacted Ms. Schiff to find out who designed it. Upon learning that it was Valentino, Mrs. Kennedy caught wind of a charity ball at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, where Valentino was to present one of his collections in September of that same year. As Mrs. Kennedy was unable to attend the ball, Valentino sent a model with a presentation of key collection pieces to her apartment on Fifth Avenue. Mrs. Kennedy ordered six Valentino dresses, all in variations of black and white, to wear while mourning the death of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. She continued on as both customer and friend of Valentino, who would later design her wedding dress for her marriage to famous shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis.
In 1967, Valentino’s reputation as Italy’s premiere couturier was further cemented upon receipt of the prestigious Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, the equal to an Oscar in the fashion world. As his success mounted, Valentino’s friends and customers included such names as Queen Paola of Belgium, the Begum Aga Khan, Farah Diba, Veruschka, Princess Margaret, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Marella Agnelli, Marisa Berenson and Lee Radziwill.
Valentino retired from fashion design in January 2008, with a final haute couture show in Paris that showcased legendary models Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Eva Herzigova. His iconic creations are still at the forefront of fashion, in the form of his signature dresses, clothing for both sexes, luxury handbags and jewelry.