Ten Things You Might Not Know About Mr Valentino

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Valentino, Venice, 1980Courtesy of Rizzoli

We wish a very happy 86th birthday to the Italian fashion legend by presenting a selection of little-known facts about his life

Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani was born on May 11, 1930 in Lombardy, Italy. Before his retirement from fashion in 2008, he created a world of haute couture and ready-to-wear imbued with sartorial romance, dressing women – including Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor – in gowns fit for Grecian goddesses or fairytale royalty, with dramatic flourishes and exquisite embroidery. Today, as he turns 86, we celebrate his life with a list of ten facts about him, from his love of pugs and collection of chinaware to his utter disdain for the 1980s.

1. He has a passion for pugs
The current number of pugs that Mr Valentino owns is unknown. “It all started with Maggie, their mother; since then I’ve loved the sound of names with M,” he once said. Other names include Milton, Maude, Monty, Margot and Molly. In the 2009 documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor, the designer declared: “I don’t care about the collection, my dogs are more important!” taking an adoration for toy canines to new, unprecedented heights.

2. He is an unashamed night owl
Every evening Mr Valentino retreats to his room (with one of his many pugs) to sleep on a bed dressed in white linen complete with pillowcases that have his initials embroidered on each corner. After changing into cotton pyjamas, instead of falling straight into a slumber, he makes phonecalls, watches television and reads before switching off the lights in the early hours of the morning. Subsequently, he also likes to sleep late.

3. Valentino developed his love for red after a trip to the opera
The famous Valentino red is more than just a shade to the designer. “For the Valentino maison, red is not just a colour; it is a non-fading mark, a logo, an iconic element of the brand, a value,” he once exclaimed. Such a passion for red began after he went to see the opera Carmen in Barcelona when he was young, where the whole set was crimson, from the costumes down to the flower arrangements on stage. There is now a corresponding official Pantone hue – a bright red with a touch of orange that the designer claims will cause a lady to turn heads at any party.

4. He is obsessive about table arrangements
Speaking of parties, Valentino is very strict about table arrangements when it comes to hosting dinners. He told New York Magazine in 2014: “Seat the oldest person – especially if she is a lady – at your right, then seat the rest of the guests in order of importance. Never sit a husband and wife next to each other. Or even at the same table, if possible.” Approaching the decoration of his tables with the same eye for glamour that he used to create his clothes, he dresses them with meticulous detail: scattered with flowers, chocolates, found objects, and never on a white tablecloth – Valentino prefers shades of pale yellow, dusty pink, powder blue or jade green.

5. There is a Valentino Garavani impostor roaming the streets of Italy
One of the more bizarre facts about Valentino is that there is a man who imitates the distinctive aesthetic of the fashion legend, stalking the streets of Rome. “It’s a nightmare,” his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, has said. This impostor has also managed to gatecrash several shows and gain access to the runway, telling the models that their walks were terrible in front of a scathing Anna Wintour. A nightmare indeed. 

6. He learned his craft from Jean Dessès and Guy Laroche
When Valentino was 15 he arrived in Paris eager to learn all there was to know about the art of haute couture. At 18, he studied at the academy for the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, where he practised sketching and after one year went to study under Jean Dessès at Balmain and Christian Dior. He stayed with Dessès for five years before moving to the house of Guy Laroche, where the designer claims he learned everything he knows – and after just two years under Laroche’s wing, he had gained enough skill to open his own fashion house.

7. He has a vast collection of antique china
Particularly fond of accumulating antique sets from 1930s, including pieces from P.K. Silesia and Meissen, Valentino owns over 100 in total. He carefully selects which will be used to set the tables for those lavish aforementioned dinner parties, but also eats meals from these porcelain plates when he has dinner alone in front of the television. Chic.

8. Jacqueline Kennedy wore his designs when she came out of mourning
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ relationship with Valentino was both personal and professional in nature. He designed her wedding dress for her second marriage to Aristotle Onassis in October 1968 and, after the assassination of J.F. Kennedy, Jacqueline wore his clothes to transition out of her period of mourning.

9. Valentino hated his clothes from the 1980s
Valentino loved the 1940s, 50s and 60s but detested the trends of the 80s, from the gargantuan shoulder pads to poodle perms. He even went so far as to discredit his own designs from the era, stating “I hated those dresses in the 80s, they were out of proportion with shoulders that didn’t belong to the fit, they were all terrible, terrible!” 

10. The young Valentino was enamoured with the silver screen
As a teenager, the young Valentino had an older sister whose boyfriend would take her to the cinema on dates. Although he wasn’t technically allowed to go, due to his being underage, his sibling would make the excuse that Valentino should accompany her to avoid anything ‘untoward’ happening on the back row. It was there that he fell in love with the stars of the silver screen, sporting the exquisite gowns that would have such an influence on his future career as a fashion designer. 

Valentino Master of Couture: A Private View is available now, published by Rizzoli.