By  on June 27, 2007

Valentino and red go way back. To him, it's the color of love, passion, life, death — and the best remedy for sadness.

He traces his fascination for all things red first to his birth sign of Taurus, and then to an anonymous lady he saw in a red velvet gown at the Barcelona opera when he was 17.

"She was unique, isolated, fiery — the perfect heroine," said the designer, who in his early days unabashedly sported flaming red socks under cotton pants. "I told myself that if I were ever going to become a designer, I would do lots of red."

Neither too dark nor too light, "Valentino red" has become a staple of the fashion lexicon, with nearly all of his collections featuring a flash of the fiery shade, whether in a full-length gown or a poppy print.

Red shadows appeared in his early sketches, and his Rome atelier featured red curtains and upholstery. Cashmere coats with pearl buttons; glittering brocade cigarette pants; a one-shoulder evening dress with an appliquéd flower worn by Brooke Shields in 1981, and even roomy fake furs — Valentino has crafted them all in shades of crimson.

But it is the gowns that have given the greatest flourish to Valentino's signature shade. More than once, his couture and ready-to-wear runway shows have ended in a battery of dramatic red dresses, most recently the fall 2007 rtw collection. Even the designer's "little black nothing dress" of 1983 came in a showstopping red paillette version.

"Even the most simple and normal dress becomes rich and meaningful if done in red," he explained. "It's the only strong color that I really love."

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