Valentino's faithful couture clients, affectionately known as "Val's gals," could also be considered a fan club.
"During the first years, Valentino was always with the clients, and they were all in love with him," said Gabriella Battiti, the Roman designer's couture director since 1967. "He took care of them from the beginning of the dress until the end."
In four-and-a-half decades, Valentino has cemented innumerable friendships over yards of lace and gazar — even if the size of his empire now often precludes the one-on-one consultations that defined his early years.
Marie-Chantal of Greece selected Valentino to create the gowns for her lavish 1995 wedding to Prince Pavlos. She met with the designer six months before the nuptials. "I had complete faith in him, and since then we have become very close.
"I suppose my favorite is a ballgown that he designed for my wedding ball," she continued. "It was an incredible dress: pale green with a full skirt and a tiny bodice with fabulous embroidered flowers."
Hearing buzz about a talented new couturier, Doris Brynner, then loyal to Cristóbal Balenciaga, took her friend Audrey Hepburn to see Valentino's famous White Collection of 1968. And at a dinner Hepburn hosted in Rome, Elizabeth Taylor encouraged Brynner to go work for the couturier. Soon Brynner was taking the collection to St. Moritz, securing clients such as the Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi. She would continue to work with Valentino through much of the Eighties.
"He's so gregarious and so positive," Brynner said. "If he gives a party and it rains, he'll say, ‘Oh, it'll be good for the garden.'"
Georgina Brandolini first encountered Valentino during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-Seventies. She was working at Christian Dior in Paris at the time, but left to open Valentino's door on Avenue Montaigne, where he became one of the first Italian designers to plant his flag on the tony street. "I ended up staying 20 years," Brandolini said.
Ann Getty met the designer at the Met Costume Institute Ball in 1980. "I found him to be charming, cultured, intelligent and not bad looking: I always wondered if he had a first name." A few years later she wore one of his couture creations to the San Francisco Symphony Black and White Ball. "The whole look was effortless elegance," she recalled of the white satin georgette top with black sequin embroidery at one shoulder and long black silk crepe skirt."The workmanship is flawless, and he creates glamour without pretense," she continued. "His creations are timeless."
Lynn Wyatt said she went into her attic to uncover a Valentino couture creation for his anniversary party, and she still cherishes one from the late Seventies. "Princess Grace asked me to chair the Bal de la Rose in Monte Carlo, so she named it the Yellow Rose of Texas," Wyatt recalled of the golden yellow gown. "It was one shoulder with ruffles going over the shoulder and down the back. It was gazar and it was just beautiful. I think his brand is perfection personified.
"And it doesn't end with his haute couture," Wyatt continued. "In his houses, every place your eyes land it looks like the perfect still life: The colors are beautiful and harmonious, the furniture is museum quality, as are the paintings. He appreciates beauty. He surrounds himself with beauty. His gardens at Wideville [Valentino's estate near Paris] are incredible."
But Valentino's heavy social calendar and public profile belie the fact that the designer remains extremely dedicated to his craft, Brandolini said. "When he works, he really works. He works until 10 in the evening without stopping."
Especially, she said, now that the designer is appealing to a new generation: "The big difference I see is how young people love Valentino — if they can afford it."
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