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NEW YORK — With more energy and events than a junior socialite, Valentino swept into town two weeks ago and proceeded to paint New York red — signature Valentino red, of course. With a staggeringly packed itinerary, the designer spread about his Italian glitz and charmed more than his fair share of pretty young ladies.
He kicked off his Manhattan getaway on Nov. 9 at the Black Ball to benefit Keep a Child Alive, hosted by Iman and Alicia Keys and thrown by Condé Nast Publications Inc. (parent company of WWD). “I’ve come here for a long, long time — for 40 years,” said Valentino of his annual holiday trek here. Despite flying in from London the night before, he arrived fresh and ready to mingle.
He posed with his guest, Anne Hathaway, charming in her alabaster Valentino gown. “It’s the one I could zip up without being in pain,” the slender actress joked of the floor-length silk confection. “But I’m sucking in like crazy.” Of course, that wasn’t the first time Hathaway had worn Valentino. The two met when he costumed her for “The Devil Wears Prada,” and reconnected at a party hosted on his yacht during the Venice Film Festival. Hathaway said she has every intention of returning the hospitality. “I hope to invite him over for a home-cooked meal.”
Valentino also caught up with longtime friend Iman. “She did all my fashion shows in the Seventies,” he said of the former model, who looked stunning in a red Valentino number, even though the designer advised against that choice. “He told me I had to wear black because it’s the Black Ball,” joked Iman. “But I said, ‘No, it’s because it’s for black people.'”
From there, the Italian legend, long a fan of Hollywood glamour, moved from one lovely starlet to the next. He spent the next afternoon with Kate Winslet, prepping the actress for her various upcoming appearances. But by Saturday, he was looking for a more casual cultural affair, so the designer and his entourage, including Giancarlo Giammetti, Bruce Hoeksema and Carlos Souza, reconvened for lunch at Bar Pitti in the West Village. Afterward, it was on to Phillips de Pury for a peek at lots from the following week’s contemporary art auction. Brooke de Ocampo led the tour, putting in a good word for friends Francesco Vezzoli and Vik Muniz, whose self-portrait caught Giammetti’s eye.
Among those taking in the high art was Julian Schnabel, who praised Valentino, telling him he was the “best of the best.” Schnabel’s 1980 work “Bob’s World” was on the block, though Valentino’s interests were elsewhere. “There’s all my friends from the Sixties,” he said with a note of nostalgia, gazing at Andy Warhol’s photos of Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger and Jacqueline Onassis.
And while his eyes lit up at the sight of Barbara Kruger’s vivid Marilyn Monroe prints, ultimately it was Richard Prince’s untitled 1997 cowboy print that made a lasting impression. “I think I’ll take it,” said Valentino, with a smile. “But you don’t buy paintings like peanuts or sandwiches. You think about it for a second.”
By Nov. 14, he was ready for his close-up on “The Martha Stewart Show,” where he and the host whipped up a tasty tomato and pesto pasta dish that the designer thought up himself. “This is so exciting,” he said backstage, taking in the hustle and bustle going on around him. In his 45 years of business, he said, this was his first opportunity to be a guest on such a show. “She’s a great lady, gentle, very well-informed,” he recalled of his first impression of Stewart, when they met during the last couture season. “She was perfect.”
Despite his glamorous schedule, the designer admitted he was feeling a bit homesick for his four pugs, but wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the journey back. “I just realized I’m claustrophobic,” he said of flying, noting that he tries to sleep in transit. “I don’t want to be bothered with snacks and orange juice and glasses of Champagne.”
And while he was in town to attend and host various galas, there was another good reason for his visit, one that had nothing to do with fashionable goings-on: his yearly check-up with the doctor. “As any human being who isn’t a spring chicken, you have to make sure everything is working,” said the 74-year-old.
Still, he not only managed to make it to every event on his superjammed itinerary, but he also seemingly outpaced the rest of New York’s social pack. The evening of Nov. 15, with barely a day to rest, he welcomed close friends to his Madison Avenue boutique, where prints of celebs photographed by Michael Thompson for the “I Am African” campaign to benefit Keep a Child Alive were for sale. Valentino arrived in a dashing black tux, double-kissing his way through a party that included Iman, Zoe Saldana, Sophie Dahl, Jackie Astier, Pamela Gross and his dear friend, Lucia Moreira-Salles, with whom he spent much of the evening tête-à-tête.
The next evening, the designer swung by the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund party, hosted by Anna Wintour, before making a stylishly late entrance to his own fete celebrating the launch of his Rock ‘n Rose fragrance. He hung out with Zac Posen, Veronica Webb, Ivanka Trump and Diana Kamalova. As he watched the throng of scantily clad downtown hipsters dance to the blaring music of the Hysterics, he simply smiled and described it as “amusing.” And only once did he admit it all to be “exhausting.”
After spending the weekend with friends and doing a bit of shopping, Valentino’s last planned appearance was at the unveiling of the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday windows, where a traffic-stopping miniperformance of “The Nutcracker” was put on by students of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. Covered in the fake snow that was brought in for the occasion, he posed for pictures with children and said hello to the crush of fans; he even jaywalked across Fifth Avenue, New Yorker-style. “It was with great joy, and a little claustrophobia, that I was happy to see the friendship people gave me on the street,” he said. “Only in New York could you celebrate the holidays this way.”
And only in New York does Valentino keep such a grueling schedule, but since he missed his usual spring trip earlier this year, there was twice as much ground to cover. At least the dinner at La Grenouille, right after the Saks event, afforded him a little time to unwind. Here, he wined and dined with Saks execs as well as Cornelia Guest and his new BFF, Stewart. No doubt, Valentino and Stewart toasted the fact that his appearance garnered her show one of its highest ratings for the year.
With his business engagements concluded, there’s yet one more social must-stop here before he jets home: Thanksgiving dinner. A big fan of the holiday’s culinary traditions, Valentino often asks his chef to prepare the turkey meal, “and sometimes not even on Thanksgiving,” he noted. “And by the way, my cook does the American stuffing recipe with chestnuts and everything.”