Valentino Garavani, 75, the Roman couturier who has dressed some of the most famous women in the world, including Jacqueline Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Cate Blanchett, will retire in January after his haute couture show in Paris. Alessandra Facchinetti, a former designer of Gucci, will replace the legendary couturier as creative director of the Valentino women's collections, it was announced Wednesday by the London-based private equity fund, Permira, which owns a controlling stake in Valentino Fashion Group SpA.
The long-anticipated announcement comes on the heels of the elaborate 45th anniversary celebration in Rome last July where Valentino and his longtime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, entertained the likes of Uma Thurman, Silvio Berlusconi and Princess Caroline of Monaco throughout a three-day spectacle that included a dinner held on the ancient foundations of the Temple of Venus and a ball for 1000 guests in a 17,000 sq. ft. tent erected especially for the festivities in the Villa Borghese Gardens. The celebration, which Valentino Wednesday called "a moment of infinite magic and tremendous joy," was rumored to cost upwards of $10 million.
Back in May, Valentino told TIME that he was thinking of retiring and was waiting for a successor to be chosen. He said that his preferences were Nicholas Ghèsquiere of Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen. "Someone who knows fashion," he explained, although it is unclear how much say the couturier really had in the choice, given that Permira had already targeted Facchinetti when they closed the deal on the Valentino purchase.
Valentino's departure represents a poignant passing of an enduring fashion generation which includes Yves Saint Laurent who retired in 2002, and Emanuel Ungaro, who sold his house and retired soon after in 2004, and it also points to designers like Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren, who have created enduring fashion empires and who are nearing retirement age.
For many of these fashion conglomerates, success today stems from the ability to generate profits from high-margin businesses like accessories. Permira will certainly focus on that arm of the Valentino business, currently considered vastly underdeveloped. The real test, though, in this new game of private equity ownership in fashion will be how they read the fickle ways of an industry that in 10 years has gone from primarily family-owned labels to global luxury conglomerates. Many observers also feel that star power is necessary to generate sales. While others think that the brand should be the main focus of any large fashion business. Either way, Valentino and the glamorous life he represents, may be anachronistic in a time when the business is ruled by the bottom line and threatened by fast-fashion manufacturers like Zara and H&M.