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In 1959, after working in Paris at the houses of Jean Dessès and Guy Laroche, a young Mr. Valentino decided to return to Italy and establish his own atelier.

Published a year after Mr. Valentino retired, Valentino: A Grand Italian Epic (Taschen, 2009) is the ultimate Valentino sourcebook. There are stunning archival images dating from the earliest days of Valentino, clips from old reviews and news reports; contributions by Franca Sozzani and Anna Wintour, among many others, and an oral history with anecdotes provided by members of the Valentino tribe, stars such as Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, major fashion editors and fellow designers, and of course, Mr. Valentino and Mr. Giammetti. This, and much more, makes the book a treasure trove for Valentino fans—and this month and next, we'll be highlighting some of the book's riches.


Part I: Valentino goes to Rome


In 1959, after working in Paris at the houses of Jean Dessès and Guy Laroche, a young Mr. Valentino decided to return to Italy and establish his own atelier. Vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes, who knew Mr. Valentino when he worked in Paris, remembers her friend telling her about his decision.


Jacqueline de Ribes: "He was young, handsome, marvelous, so adorable. He made marvelous sketches for me. But when he left Paris he told me, 'In the end, there's nothing in Paris for me, I'm going back to Rome.' I said, 'You are crazy, Valentino! How can you leave Paris, which is the mecca of couture? Rome is nothing. It's provincial, by comparison.' And four years later I received his box of invitations to the first couture house in Rome. I must say that I was stupefied, full of joy. I said to myself, 'Bravo, here's someone who had an intuition, and how well he conducted his business."


Right off the bat, Mr. Valentino distinguished his label from the look in Paris, as recalled by former Vogue fashion editor (and twin sister of Valentino tribe member Consuela Crispi) Gloria Schiff.


Gloria Schiff: "You know, everybody in Paris was doing very constructed clothes, like Balenciaga, Givenchy. Everything was shaped and molded, and tight and constricted. Valentino was the first to do clothes that really enhanced a woman and moved with her—made her look sexy, provocative and alluring."


The business started to take off. As Mr. Giammetti remembers, one of the first important clients for the house was the Countess Claire Aquarone.


Giancarlo Giammetti: "She was a Mexican beauty, a millionaire. It was 1960, the year of the Olympic games in Rome. There were all these big parties and she ordered this huge wardrobe. That, for us, was really the key, the turning point."


Around the same time, Mr. Valentino met Elizabeth Taylor, then the biggest star in Hollywood, who became a lifelong client and a lifelong friend.


Elizabeth Taylor: "[Valentino and I] met in Rome in 1960 during the shooting of Cleopatra and I became one of his first clients. He designed my clothes for Ash Wednesday and Night Watch. I've been wearing his clothes in my private and personal life ever since. I got hooked—his clothes are addictional!"


The international fashion scene took note. Bernadine Morris, the New York Times style reporter at the time, called Valentino "the Roman couturier."


Bernadine Morris: "He made couture clothes, and people came for them… His shows drew the elite of Roman society. They didn't necessarily buy, but it was important to be there. I think he gave Italian fashion the punch that Saint Laurent and Dior and Givenchy were giving in Paris. He had the same standards. I think he did an awful lot for Italian fashion, giving it class and putting it close to the plane of Paris."


Next time: Mr. Valentino and his ultimate muse.  



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