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June 19, 2008 4:22 PM

Eye, Fashion

Valentino: The Gala Life Goes On

/*photo styles */ .photo-left { width:200px; float:left; margin:4px; } .photo-right { width:200px; float:right; margin:4px; } .caption { font-size:10px;padding:2px; color:#999999; } Red gowns might be the first thing people think of when they hear the word Valentino, but intimates know...

Red gowns might be the first thing people think of when they hear the word Valentino, but intimates know it means so much more. When the retired Roman couturier swept into Paris earlier this week for the opening of a retrospective exhibit at Les Arts Décoratifs, the lavish and effortlessly glamorous lifestyle he represents was in full flower -- from the hydrangeas-in-every-color-under-the-sun dotting the dinner tables at the gala dinner to the swirl of p.r. minions and international glitterati jockeying for his attention.
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"I feel like I'm at Wideville," Marisa Berenson remarked, likening the grandeur of the museum's rich furnishings to the designer's chateau outside of Paris.

It will be interesting to see if Valentino's new brand stewards -- the private equity fund Permira and the designer Alessandra Facchinetti -- will be able to sustain the aura of exclusivity, privilege and refinement around the brand without the founding designer, who built it over a career stretching 49 years and with a loyal entourage of Hollywood A-listers, European royals and assorted jet-setters.

Not that the man seems worried, or wistful about leaving fashion behind. During our interview, he seemed relaxed, happy and enjoying his free time, looking forward to a summer vacation that would not be interrupted by the ceaseless cycle of collections. He told me his first idea was Spain, but then he ran into a Turkish friend in London and is now mulling the possibility of sailing his yacht in its blue waters. He's got a long list of other places he's keen to visit, including Fiji and Australia. There is definitely a life after fashion, and Valentino's sounds as glamorous as ever. His fashion foundation, and ambition to do ballet costumes, might have to wait.
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