Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sheik of Chic Relinquishes Throne

Who is Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani? Here’s a hint- he’s not a Renaissance artist nor is he an Italian footballer.

To many, Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani’s first name is all that is needed to recognize one of, if not the most, influential designers of the late 20th century. Famous for his signature bold red dresses and classic couture, Valentino has dressed the world’s elite including royalty, first ladies, and movie stars such as Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor, amongst others.

His resume is just as impressive as his clientele-At 17, he moved to Paris where he studied at the Fine Arts School and at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and by 29 he had served as an apprentice at Jean Desses and Guy Laroche. It was that very year in 1959 that Valentino finally set up his own fashion house on the prestigious via Condotti in Rome. A mere 3 years later Valentino made his big breakthrough in Florence, and with the help of trusted friend and former lover, Giancarlo Giammetti, an empire was built.

45 years and innumerable collections later, on January 23rd of this year Valentino decided to bid adieu to the fashion industry forever. While it is true that at 75 Valentino is long overdue for retirement, neither old age nor bad health was the primary factors driving his decision. So who, or what, was the culprit that spurned one the greatest Italian couturiers to leave the art he had devoted his whole life towards interpreting and mastering?

One might be surprised to learn that it was nothing other than big business.

At his final runway show at which his appropriately named “swan song” collection was
presented, Valentino stated:

"The world of fashion has now been ruined…I became rather bored of continuing in a world which doesn't say anything to me. There is little creativity and too much business."

To some, Valentino’s words may appear to be somewhat hypocritical, as he made his fortune building a business of selling his high end wears to the public. While this may be true, I believe Valentino was justified in making such a statement, as the evidence for his claim can be seen everywhere, from Nordstrom’s to Bloomingdale’s, 5th Avenue to Rodeo Drive. As the desire for companies and investors to generate a profit continues to eclipse the fundamental purpose in which “old generation” designers such as Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani began mastering their craft, little room is left for creative impulses to be expressed. As this occurs the emphasis simultaneously switches from the designer and his or her vision to the consumers and what they demand. With the shift comes a new wave of designers who recognize this shift and subsequently begin designing clothes that all look the same, as they recognize that more of the same sells while the innovation of the new only has the possibility of selling. While Valentino was lucky to have successfully established his stylistic direction and unwaveringly stick to his mantra of “keeping a woman looking her best” as each decade introduced it’s own distinct fads, his successors will be met with many more hurdles as our society leaves little room for up and comers to recreate the old era “before fashion became a global, highly commercial industry” in this new consumer driven era.

As firms such as Permira, the British private equity firm that purchased Valentino’s couture house, begin replacing the Valentino’s with the Alessandra Facchinetti’s (a former Gucci designer who is considered to “be better suited to lead the group’s expansion into new markets and product lines”) of the world, I can’t help but feel an immense amount remorse, as something great and inimitable has been forever lost.

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