Valentino, as he is simply known to the world, is a bona fide fashion legend. Every inch of him, from his immovable hairdo to his signature year-round tan, epitomizes the Valentino brand: flawlessly groomed, classically glamorous and rich — very, very rich. To celebrate his 45 years in the business, the 75-year-old designer kicked off a season of events that included couture shows, black-tie dinners, retrospective exhibits, a book and even a documentary.
Earlier this fall, Valentino announced that he will retire as head designer in January. Before he leaves the stage, ELLE asked fashion’s grandmaster to reveal his take on luxury, his celeb clientele and his possible successor.
1. His legendary status
“After 45 years, when they say I’m a legend I feel very cross,” says Valentino. “I do my work with lots of joy, spring and festivity. I don’t feel like an old designer at all.”
2. His secret of success
“The first and most important thing is that I try my hardest — with all my passion — to make a woman look beautiful and make dresses that are flattering to her body,” he says. “A woman must feel like she has a glow.”
3. His homes
Valentino has five homes: an apartment in Manhattan; a villa in Rome; a mansion in London; a Louis XIII château near Versailles, just outside of Paris; and Chalet Gifferhorn in Gstaad, Switzerland. The designer also enjoys vacations aboard his 46-metre yacht, TM Blue, cruising to a different Mediterranean port every weekend in June and July. Given his lifestyle, you might imagine Valentino’s taste to be a little on the showy side, but, despite the fact that every surface in his London home is covered with books, sculptures and even large ceramic dogs, nothing looks too flashy. Everything is perfectly symmetrical: a footstool for each chair, a Damien Hirst for each wall and, if they were here, an armchair for each dog. (Milton, Maude, Monty, Margot and Molly are his beloved pugs.)
4. His greatest luxury
“I have beautiful flowers, beautiful paintings, beautiful objects and beautiful staff,” he says. “For me, the most luxurious thing is to have a lot of staff.” In fact, a staff of nearly 50 is employed to maintain all of his properties. “When I travel, I move three or four staff members with me,” he says. “For me, it’s the most luxurious thing — when I look around, I see perfection.” Even his green tea arrives courtesy of two perfectly coordinated waiters: the first, bearing a silver tray with a silver teapot and dainty china, wears a large diamond in his ear; the second, carrying a silver tray with a single pot of honey on it, delivers a quick bow before slipping out the door.5. His food
“Believe me, I’m a pain in the neck when it comes to food,” he says. “It’s not nice to be like I am. Some people are more relaxed: they travel and eat everything — they don’t care if it’s spicy or if there’s garlic in their food. I’m too much of a pain in the neck: I don’t eat this, and I don’t eat that!” His ideal meal is a simple plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce, a dish that he cooked himself when he appeared on The Martha Stewart Show last year.
6. His drugs
“I’m a very safe person who loves his eight hours of sleep,” he says. “I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke. I’ve never taken drugs in my life — not in my entire life. I was strong enough in New York in the ’70s, when everybody was up here,” he says, pointing to the ceiling and rolling his eyes, as if imitating someone on a high. “I was just alone sometimes because everybody was in their rooms, locked up, smoking and sniffing. It never appealed to me. And they tried so hard to get me interested, saying ‘Try, try, try to smoke a joint.’ But I never did because, I don’t know, maybe I was scared I’d like it. I never wanted to lose my head.”
7. Dressing celebrities and royals
“All the young, beautiful princesses love to be well dressed now, to be glamorous,” he says. “They’re not like they were in the past: very conservative, in a very boring way. But, of course, there’s a difference between that and the red carpet. For movie stars now, the more skin you show, the more beautiful the dress is.” A steady stream of famous women have made their way to Valentino since 1959, when, at the age of 27, he opened his studio in a luxurious Roman apartment on Via dei Condotti at the foot of the Spanish Steps. In the early days, it was former First Lady and fashion pin-up Jackie Kennedy; today, it’s Jennifer
Aniston, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez. Meryl Streep is a “very close friend,” as is Gwyneth Paltrow, whose daughter, Apple, is Valentino’s goddaughter.
8. His fashions and fashion friends
If there’s one subject Valentino hates to talk about when he’s not working, it’s fashion. “Oh, my gosh, I have lots of colleagues whom I love very much, but they speak about clothes and fashion every minute of their lives,” he says. “I would kill myself!” So, does he have any fashion buddies? “Of course, I know everybody [in fashion] when we see each other. But close friends? No. Maybe the closest one is Tom Ford.” In fact, he says Ford is the one designer to whom he would hand over the reins of his company when he retires. “Maybe. I told him ‘I think you would be the only one.’”
9. His money
“I never have a penny in my pocket,” he says.
10. His image
Is it important for a designer to have an instantly recognizable image? “I don’t know, but this is the way I comb my hair all the time — it never changes.” What about his trademark tan? “When I don’t have [the sun], I use a sun lamp,” he says. “I like to look healthy. For a woman, it’s nice to be pale. But for a man to be so white, so sickly looking, I don’t like it.”
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.