By  on January 22, 2008

PARIS — When Valentino bids farewell to fashion Wednesday night after a glittering 45-year career, he's going to take his sweet time.

"I must leave a souvenir to all of my friends of something to remember, not five seconds of show," he said of his 75-exit swan song couture collection, which will parade under the vaulted ceilings of a giant tent in the gardens of the Musée Rodin.

"I really enjoyed very, very much making this collection and, on purpose, I decided to make it a little bit bigger. So for my last show, [my guests] can be seated maybe 15 minutes longer than usual."

Leisurely though his show might be, the Roman couturier is not looking to fan any emotions of the moist variety.

"Very happy, not sad at all," he replied when asked about the mood he's after for his final show, to be attended by the likes of Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liv Tyler and Elizabeth Hurley. "It's a happy collection. It's not a collection with tears in between."

In separate interviews here Monday at Valentino's gilded salons on the Place Vendôme, the designer and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, spoke in frank, upbeat terms about their lives after retirement — while holding out hope that couture would continue to thrive after their departure. "We are very serene, very happy," Valentino said, flashing a big smile. "We end a cycle in our life and a new one is starting. I am especially happy because I leave one very happy career, a career that gave me a lot."

Valentino said the show would not be a retrospective, but rather an elaboration on elements that have run throughout his career, including Chinese details and embroideries. "It's a summer collection: very couture. I want to show something smooth, nice, feminine with nice colors, nice cutting, controlling all the details," he said. "The shoes, they are studied for every single exit. I mean, that's what you have to do when you prepare a couture collection."

Coats, short skirts, hand-painted gloves, romantic garden dresses with big hats and glamorous evening gowns are all elements of his swan song. And if there's any blast from the past, it's his use of plenty of organdy, a fabric of which he last used this much in the Sixties.Sounding relaxed, yet full of energy, the designer rattled off a host of upcoming projects. After traveling to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, where he and an entourage of about 20 will celebrate Giammetti's birthday, he's off to Moscow for an event where the couture's finale dress will be auctioned off in support of model Natalia Vodianova's charity, Naked Heart. This June, he will mount a retrospective exhibition at the Arts Decoratifs museum here in Paris, and then contemplate other ventures, such as costume design.

"I would love to do 'La Traviata,' I have to tell you," he said. "I would love to do something fabulous for the ballet. Certainly I am not the sort of person to be seated all day long watching television. I'm going to find something to do."

For his part, Giammetti said his plan is to "chill out first," and then thrust into new projects. "I don't see why we should stop working; doing something related to fashion, like a school of fashion, a museum of fashion," he said.

After retirement, Valentino said he plans to spend more time in Paris and London, where he and Giammetti will maintain an office. And while he relishes the chance to spend more time on his boat and at various homes, the designer confessed to feeling some sketch pad withdrawal.

"I am a designer, all my life. Every single scarf, every single shoe, every single jewel — everything — I draw it myself. I love to design. This is my only problem," he said. "Finishing this collection, I gave all the drawings to the workrooms and then waited for the fittings, I didn't have anything to do. Usually I'm drawing future collections."

About 900 guests, including more than 100 Valentino employees, are heading toward Paris to pay respects to the Rome-based designer, whose mantle will be taken up by Alessandra Facchinetti upon his retirement. The guests include more than 100 clients, emblematic of good health for Valentino's high-fashion business, which has posted sales increases of about 10 percent each year for the past two years, Giammetti said. In fact, the atelier is still filling orders from last July's couture show, the centerpiece of a weekend of festivities to mark the house's 45th anniversary, he noted.While Middle Eastern and European clients dominate Valentino's couture order books, Russians are coming on strong and shaving the average age of clients down by about 10 years, Giammetti said. Meanwhile, India and China represent important future markets that should help high fashion remain afloat, even as the number of important practitioners shrinks.

"I would love the couture to go on," Valentino said. "It's something that is part of the world of fashion and it would be a pity to forget all those things."

Giammetti said couture represents the only corner of fashion yet untouched by the bottom-line mentality now so predominant in the industry. "Couture is seen as an escape from all this: no limits, no barrier, where you can make five dresses or 10 or 75," he said. "We need to protect ourselves at the top end of luxury."

And Valentino also held out hope that more young designers will be attracted by "the challenge" of couture and keep the tradition going. "To me, the world of haute couture is very important because I did it all my life," he added. "Haute couture is something you have to do with your experience."

Following his show, Valentino plans to host a private dinner at his 17th-century Domaine de Wideville castle in the countryside near Paris. And on Thursday, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë will decorate the designer as an honorary citizen of the city.

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