Designer Valentino to Step Down in January After 45 Years

Italian designer Valentino, whose signature flaming red couture gowns have graced royalty, Hollywood stars and the international jet set for 45 years, announced Tuesday he was stepping down as head designer of the Valentino fashion house.

In a statement, Valentino said he would complete his work in January, after showing his ready-to-wear collection in Paris in October and his couture collection there in January. No individual successor was named; Valentino said his existing team would continue designing for the house.

The 75-year-old Valentino said he had decided the time was right after he celebrated 45 years in the fashion world with a three-day, star-studded extravaganza in Rome this past July.

"It would be impossible to equal the emotion and joy over the friendship and consideration that the world showed me on that occasion," Valentino said. "As such, I have decided that this is the perfect moment to say 'addio' (farewell) to the fashion world."

Word of his retirement, first reported Tuesday by Women's Wear Daily, had long been anticipated. The designer, alongside longtime partner Giancarlo Giammetti, set the stage for his exit by selling the business side of the house to the publicly traded Marzotto SpA in 2002, while remaining in creative control of the atelier.

Marzotto then sold Valentino to the Permira private equity fund in a deal cleared by European Union regulators in July, as the global private equity boom found its way to the fashion industry. Permira paid 782.6 million euros ($1.06 billion) for a controlling stake in Valentino in a deal that valued the fashion house at 2.6 billion euros ($3.52 billion).

Valentino said he was certain the Valentino house would change, but that he hoped that the team he had put in place "would know how to continue my work in a way that would make me proud."

As for his own plans, Valentino said his future would be full of new commitments, some linked to fashion.

"It's my intention to create and support institutions that promote the study of design and preserve the art of fashion," he said.

Valentino, born Valentino Garavani in 1932 in the northern Italian town of Voghera, began his career in Paris and later moved to Rome in the early '60s to open his own fashion house.

He quickly became the maestro of Italian couture, counting Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis among his customers, but he also worked to bring fashion to a wider public.

In the '70s and '80s he was the first Italian designer to launch ready-to-wear collection for men and women. In 1982 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its doors to fashion by hosting a Valentino show.

While fellow Italian designer Donatella Versace often courted the sexy set and Giorgio Armani the businesswoman, Valentino always attracted elegant high society, with his ultra-feminine lines, delicate prints and diaphanous fabrics.

His menswear line was also hugely popular with the jet-setting elite, with high-end casual wear that was as much at home on a yacht in the Mediterranean as on the red carpet.

Longtime client Sofia Loren said Valentino had brought "Made in Italy" to the world.

"His class, his talent, his unparalleled 'red,' his favorite color, seduced the entire world," the ANSA news agency quoted Loren as saying. "His name is synonymous with elegance."