Valentino Garavani - who, like all megastars, is known simply by his first name -is Italy's greatest couturier and one of the most respected designers showing in Paris. While wannabe glamour girls lust after his V-logo belts and bejewelled sandals, to his loyal following of moneyed couture clients Valentino is synonymous with showstopping evening dresses, which are immaculately cut in lean, feminine lines with dramatic flourishes such as ruffles, romantic embroideries and judicious use of his favourite shade of bright red.
Born in Voghera, south of Milan, in 1932, Valentino travelled to Paris at just 17 and, following studies at the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode, was apprenticed to Jean Desses and Guy Laroche. In 1959 he returned to Italy to establish his own atelier on Via Condotti in central Rome; Elizabeth Taylor, in town to film 'Spartacus', was one of Valentino's earliest clients.
In 1963, he launched his first full collection, to universal acclaim, at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and by 1967 he had won the Neiman Marcus Award, the first of many accolades. Appearances on the covers of both Time and Life magazines followed, and in 1968 Valentino was chosen by Jackie Kennedy to design the dress for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis.
At the end of the '60s, Valentino met Giancarlo Giametti, a former architecture student who would become the business brains behind the expanding fashion house and in 1970 ready-to-wear collections, for both men and women, were debuted.
By 1998 the pair had decided to sell the house, to Italian conglomerate Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali, which in turn sold the brand to Marzotto, in 2003. In July 2005 Marzotto created Valentino Fashion Group, which operates as a separate, publicly-traded concern.
Over the years the perfectly-groomed designer has dressed the most privileged women of the day, including Princess Margaret, Marella Agnelli and Begum Aga Khan. In 2002 his Hollywood credentials were re-affirmed when Julia Roberts wore an elegant black-and-white vintage Valentino dress to the Oscars. Valentino has been honoured by the governments of Italy, where he was awarded the Cavaliere di Gran Croce(1986) and France, which decorated him as a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (2005).