Valentino's passion for beauty is as legendary as his quest for perfection, but one incident recalled by a longtime collaborator really sums up the designer's zest for life. "Mr. Valentino had a full day ahead of him, with meetings scheduled back-to-back, but when they called him from his château to tell him his roses were in full bloom, he canceled all his appointments and caught the first plane to France," said the collaborator, referring to the designer's 17th-century Domaine de Wideville castle in the countryside near Paris.
And the designer readily brought up the subject himself during an interview at his Rome headquarters. "I love flowers. I must have more than a million roses, from salmon to yellow, white, pink, a mass of color.…And I'm proud of them."
Throughout his career, flowers have always been a source of inspiration for Valentino, who has embellished his designs with prints and embroideries of his favorite buds, including peonies, roses, cyclamen and camellias. "I could not live without flowers. I adore being surrounded by them: they are a sign of joy."
And the designer has surrounded himself with beauty in all its forms: fine objects, stately homes, lavish parties and, of course, gorgeous people. "In my life, I've learned to love beautiful things, to always try and reach the top, select things of a certain level...I am boring in my search for beauty."
His homes reflect his vision and are brimming with museum-worthy masterpieces by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, Meissen bowls, antique urns, Ming vases, porcelain and silver objéts, rare furniture. And what of his spending habits? "It's a disaster," he laughed.
In addition to the château, home for Valentino is a choice between apartments in Rome, London and New York and a chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, where he indulges in one of his favorite sports, skiing. After an early passion for speedboats, the designer now enjoys spending his summers cruising the Mediterranean on his yacht, which was decorated by Peter Marino.
"That was Peter's first job, to design Valentino's yacht," recalled a former associate. "Valentino really helped build Peter's career. The yacht was later copied by everyone, with its home feel and 1940s style."On the yacht, Valentino entertains his closest friends, and good, simple Mediterranean food is always a priority. "Meals are always of unbeatable quality," said a friend.
While continuing to evolve, Valentino does not redecorate constantly. "It shows lack of personality," he said.
Rather, he focuses on fabrics "as the best way to personalize a house" and, despite the antiques and abundance of decoration, values functionality. Comfort and capacity are the greatest concerns. "I am the calmest person in the world, who loves to have eight people at dinner, to eat, chat or watch a movie. It's all that I enjoy."
To share an evening with Valentino is, in the words of those who have, perfection. "The joy in receiving his friends, the details of the decorations, the tablesetting, the flowers on the table, everything just right, always amaze me," said a friend. "He's a perfectionist and has impeccable taste. I remember that, after a perfect dinner, coffee was served and he had a separate silver bowl for the sweetener — how attentive is that?" marveled another former associate.
Valentino befriends monarchs and celebrities, but is equally beloved by his employees, who show long-term loyalty and affection. "He adores his collaborators, the seamstresses in the atelier," said a colleague. "He is very nice and polite, a true gentleman who pampers them."
The designer is also an animal lover. As he posed for a portrait in his Rome studio, his pugs waited in an adjoining room, vying for their master's attention. "It's lunchtime for them," he said with a smile. When asked if he still indulges his passion for horse riding, Valentino burst out laughing. "Of course, I'm not as ancient as that!"
Valentino's larger-than-life persona has helped skyrocket the career of at least one Italian actor, who has been impersonating the designer during social events. Followed by a TV crew, a perfectly coiffed and permanently tanned faux Valentino has appeared for months on national television, with the designer taking it in stride.
"My private world is a simple one. Every day, I am thankful for what I've been given, I love luxury, but I also have simple tastes. Nothing makes me happier than a dish of pennette with tomatoes and basil. I could eat that morning, noon, dinner, for tea, in the evening."
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