By  on May 24, 2007

MILAN — Valentino seems to have survived the latest power play for control of his parent company — and now he could be poised for a power play of his own.

The multibillion-dollar battle for control of Valentino Fashion Group has all the makings of an old-fashioned Italian soap opera: a designer with a glamorous lifestyle, the envy of his peers; secret suitors and alliances; a charming Italian playboy; deep-pocketed investors; the global allure of fashion, and an ambitious company chairman looking to shove aside one of Italy's foremost industrial families.

All the while, Valentino and his business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, have sat on the sidelines, ostensibly preparing for what many believe would be their farewell extravaganza in Rome July 6 to 8, which will include a couture show for 1,200 people, a black-tie dinner for 700, an exhibit, a book and even a documentary.

But Valentino might not be going anywhere, after all. Instead, the designer, 75, could be getting ready to flex his muscles and renew his contract yet again. After all, he has been ambivalent about the prospect of retiring, refusing to confirm the speculation. Asked by WWD in Cannes last week if he could ever see the day when he would stop making gowns, the designer bluntly exclaimed: "Absolutely not!"

He also recently told WWD's sister publication, W, that, while he thinks about the prospect of stepping down, "the day I decide is when I decide."

The ink on equity fund Permira's agreement to buy 29.6 percent of VFG — and perhaps a majority — is barely dry and it has yet to lay out its strategy. But observers believe Valentino could use the change in ownership as a reason to stay at the helm of his eponymous fashion house, because the financial players would need his know-how, experience and, above all, persona if they want the brand to reach its full potential.

Well aware of the power of the media, Valentino and Giammetti have been more visible than ever in recent months, even making a rare appearance at the Cannes Film Festival last week to underscore just how pivotal the relationship between a designer and the red carpet is. The Cannes visit followed his appearance with Jennifer Garner at the Costume Institute gala in New York, which in itself was preceded by a Manhattan fashion show and endless cocktails and dinners. That New York tour followed Valentino's two-week visit in November when he was as busy as a politician on the campaign trail — even appearing on "The Martha Stewart Show," where he made a tomato and pesto dish he created.

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