Valentino's Gifts

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Display of Valentino gowns at the Ara Pacis museum in Rome.

Rome is buzzing with the weekend-long celebrations of designer Valentino Garavani's 45th anniversary. The festivities kicked off Friday night at the Museum of Ara Pacis where a retrospective of the designer's work has been installed by London-based curator Patrick Kinmoth. Many of Valentino's friends showed up for the opening, including Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Uma Thurman, and Karl Lagerfeld. "We have known each other for so long," Lagerfeld remarked as Valentino led him through the exhibit.

At a press conference before the unveiling, Valentino tackled persistent rumors about his possible retirement. "I would love to know why you are so interested in this," the designer quipped, "there are no problems." He went on to discuss his continuing love of sexy, glamourous clothes.

The museum show comprised over 300 pieces — including a white lace dress that Valentino designed while working as a 19-year-old assistant to the Paris couturier Jean Desses — displayed as if in a pagan ritual, culminating at an ancient altar. The first room, all elaborately beaded dresses and coats, suggested the "seed" of an idea. That progressed to a "Peace" dress — white, with the word peace embroidered all over it — which Valentino had designed during the Gulf War. Two dozen white dresses are arranged as if marching toward the altar, surrounded by a "chorus" of dresses in the designer's signature red.

In addition to showing his glamourous work, the designer has virtually put the city of Rome on display. Following the exhibit, a dinner for 900 was held in the Temple of Venus, in front of the Colosseum. The famous Roman set designer, Dante Ferretti, created a breathtaking colonnade of columns lit from within. And on Saturday, Valentino will show his haute couture collection in the Baglivi and Incisa halls of the Monumental Complex of the Santo Spirito in Sassia, the oldest charitable institution of Rome, followed by a gala dinner in the Villa Borghese gardens. If this is 45, one guest wondered, what will 50 be like?