Every field of pursuit has its prodigies: Music has Mozart, writing has Rimbaud—fashion has Valentino. Even as a young boy in pre-War Lombardy, Italy, Valentino Garavani showed a passion for clothing and design, working as an apprentice to local designers while studying French and fashion at the Accademia dell Arte in Milan. At 17 he moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and won the prestigious International Wool Secretariat award later given to Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. In ’59, with the backing of his father and a family friend, Valentino launched his own line of womenswear couture in a showroom on the via Condotti in Rome, and, according to the New York Times, “quickly developed an international coterie of acolytes that included socialites, countesses, movie stars and one first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.”
A dozen years later a menswear line followed with its own flagship on the Rodeo Drive of Rome, and was similarly favored by celebrities on the red carpet. Best exemplified by the sartorial splendor of the yacht-hopping Shiek of Chic himself, the menswear line is a collection of classic staples—from peak-lapel pin stripe blazers to point collar shirts—just perfect for your next Oscar gala or chateau garden party. Even after selling the label to a conglomerate (partially controlled by style icon and Fiat tycoon Gianni Agnelli) in 1998, Valentino still controlled the designs and kept them to his standard of timeless elegance. When he retired in 2007 (and really, after being the subject of an award winning documentary and awarded a Legion of Honor, what does one do other than retire to one’s villa on Capri?), creative directorship for the brand passed to Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly of Gucci group. Now in the hands of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, Valentino SpA (as the brand is called) is appealing to a younger clientele while keeping intact its mastery of menswear finery. A legacy of lush fabrics and a perfect hybrid of Italian tailoring with Parisian flair, make Valentino a band you definitely need to know.