“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.” Those are the indelible words of Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood legend nonpareil. From the early 1960s on, Taylor’s way of “pulling herself together” very often meant putting on some Valentino. At his recent talk at the 92Y in New York, Mr. Valentino recalled how he met the incomparable Liz. “She was in Rome for one year to shoot Cleopatra,” he told interviewer Fern Mallis. “She asked—I don’t know which person, I don’t remember-- ‘you have a new designer that just opened a fashion house called Valentino. I’d love to see his clothes.’”
That was the start of a lifelong friendship. As Mr. Valentino went on to tell Mallis and the assembled 92Y crowd, he and Mr. Giammetti went one afternoon to a big villa, and discussed the possibility of providing a gown for her to wear to the premiere of Spartacus. “My mouth was open in front of this beauty,” Mr. Valentino recalled. “She was unbelievable… [She said] ‘I would love to wear an evening gown from you. But I have to tell you, I already have a gown from Dior. If the dress is beautiful, it suits me and I like it, I’m going to wear your dress.”
“So I tried my best,” Mr. Valentino went on. “And she did wear it.” And Taylor would wear Valentino many, many times after that, over the course of her lifetime. Her devotion to Valentino can be summed up in two looks: The white column gown from the Haute Couture Fall/Winter 1961/62 collection that she wore to the Spartacus premiere in Rome, and the white off-the-shoulder gown from the Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1991 collection that she donned on her return to Rome in 1991, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Maison Valentino. That evening, she shared a dance with the designer, no doubt remembering how she’d met him back when he was all-but unknown. At the 92Y event, Mr. Valentino described Liz, circa 1961, as “very demanding.” He didn’t mind, of course. Who would?