ROME – It was a Midsummer Night's Dream that even Shakespeare would have a hard time matching.
A thousand guests — many of the ladies in Valentino's best — sipped flutes of sparkling wine, as they strolled past the priceless marble sculptures of the Galleria Borghese museum, on their way to a gala ball set up under a tent in the adjacent park.
"I love you, all of you very much," an emotional Valentino said in his toast during Saturday night's event, which culminated two days of celebrations marking the designer's 45 years in fashion.
Rome hadn't seen such a bright red carpet in decades, probably since the "Dolce Vita" 1960s, which coincided with the beginning of the 75-year-old designer's career, as golden boy of the international jet-set.
Leave it to Valentino to gather in the same room Mick Jagger — in town for a Rolling Stones concert — the widow of the late shah of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, and Princess Caroline of Monaco and family on their way to a Mediterranean cruise on their private yacht.
Among top models at the gala were Elle MacPherson and Claudia Schiffer. Actresses on hand included Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Hudson. Designers Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace and Tom Ford also attended, as did the fashion world's most revered and at times dreaded fashion editor, Vogue America's Anna Wintour.
And the list goes on and on.
Schiffer flaunted a gown in Valentino's trademark flaming red. Hathaway was in a black Valentino with white embroidery, while the Oscar winning actress Hudson was in Valentino brown.
"Valentino is a sweet man, a fantastic couturier, and I just hope he goes on designing for a very long time," said Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, a longtime friend, as she walked the red carpet in a vintage Valentino red gown.
The evening's setting, by Dante Ferretti, evoked the Orient with lacquered red and black walls with gilded decorations framing the 78 tables adorned with center pieces made up of roses, hydrangeas and orchids. Waiters in guru jackets served the fish based menu on 3,500 delicate green porcelain plates, while an orchestra played high society music from the 1940s.
Pop star Annie Lennox offered the highlight with a surprise performance.
Friday evening, Valentino served up another gala evening in a temple in the Roman Forum, for 500 guests including former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Acrobats wearing Valentino gowns danced above the ruins, as lighting of different colors transformed the Colosseum, symbol of Imperial Rome.
Earlier Saturday, Valentino offered a brand new winter couture wardrobe of 61 outfits to a star-studded audience gathered in a former medieval convent near the Vatican. It was his first show in 17 years in the city where he began his climb to the top of the fashion ladder. Since the early 1990s Valentino has spent his fashion time between Paris and Milan.
Friday the designer opened a retrospective exhibit of his style in the glass and stone venue by Richard Meier, which encases one of ancient Rome's most sacred monuments, the Ara Pacis. The exhibit, part of which can be seen from the street, is open until the end of October 2007.
To mark his 45th anniversary, Valentino launched a new perfume that will be on the market in the fall, Rock 'n' Rose Couture.
Toasting his longtime friend, Valentino's business partner Giancarlo Giammetti recalled their first years in Rome as two penniless young men with a dream.
"Fame and fortune have not changed him. He is still the same little guy I met 45 years ago," Giammetti said.