ROME — Mamma mia! With fireworks, aerial acrobats, a surprise Annie Lennox concert and enough bold-faced names to rival those of awards season, Valentino threw himself an anniversary party over the weekend that was almost as grand and impressive as the Colosseum. The festivities, rumored to cost upward of $10 million, were not the swan song some were expecting. Far from it. On Sunday, sources indicated that the designer is zeroing in on a new three-year contract with the private equity fund Permira, the Italian firm's new owner.

"Maybe," Valentino's business partner Giancarlo Giammetti demurred with a smile when asked if the designer had reached a deal.

Given the ovations and accolades the designer received over the weekend, it would appear that his global fan club is not ready to see the Roman couturier hang up his scissors.

"It's amazing. I love that green one," Eva Mendes cooed Friday as she surveyed the dozens of couture dresses arranged in alluring groups at the sun-filled Ara Pacis Museum, where a Valentino retrospective was held. (See related story, page 7.) The society fashions should put Mendes in the right frame of mind for her next role: She soon starts rehearsals for a remake of "The Women," Clare Boothe Luce's wicked comedy of manners.

The retrospective, showcasing 45 years of design, began three days of festivities flanking Valentino's fall couture show and capped off a couture collections season chockablock with milestones, including Christian Lacroix's 20th anniversary and Christian Dior's 60th. Throughout the weekend, crowds of locals gathered in front of barricades to catch the arrival of Hollywood stars, models, royals and jet-setters, including the Empress Farah Pahlavi, Betty Lagardère, Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, Rosario of Bulgaria and Princess Caroline of Monaco with her children and their glamorously rowdy entourage in tow.

At the apex of the Friday night event that began the weekend's festivities, Valentino plunged through thick crowds that rivaled those at the Vatican during tourist season to greet Karl Lagerfeld, one of scores of designers who came to salute Rome's most famous couturier. Also descending on the city were Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Zac Posen and Philip Treacy, who led a standing ovation on Saturday beside a runway that spanned almost 400 feet.

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