When I got married 13 years ago, my wedding party dress was by Valentino. It was a short, dark blue crepe dress with shoestring straps and a blue silk fringe at the hem. It came with a matching chiffon coat.
It was a perfect example of the skill of Valentino. Perfectly cut to disguise any tummy and enhance the shape of the bust, the heavy fringe gave it a festive shimmy and the chiffon coat acted as a glamorous security blanket for the early evening when I might be fretting about exposing my arms. Scroll down for more...
Model Veruschka in 1966. Italian Principessa Luciana Pignatelli in 1966.
When it came to what to wear for one of the most important days of my life, the choice of designer was a no-brainer.
I had always promised myself that when there was a really important celebration where I wanted to look elegant and sexy, it would be Valentino I would choose.
The secret of Valentino Garavani - who this week announced his retirement after 45 years in the business - is that he has had an almost unique understanding of what women want to look like and what men want them to look like. In this he is rare among designers, who all too often fail to celebrate the beauty of the female form.
His designs offer sexiness without a hint of the tawdry, formality with no stiffness, femininity devoid of the saccharine and - and this is a big 'and' - are unbelievably flattering.
Women wearing his clothes feel feminine and beautiful, and men looking at women wearing his clothes want that woman on their arm.
Valentino launched his first collection in Florence in 1962, when Italian fashion had nothing like the profile it does now.
By then he had met Giancarlo Giametti, the man who was to become his partner - for some years personally, and in business for his whole career - and who shared a vision of how to build a fashion house that would come to encapsulate international glamour.
They soon moved the business to Rome, starting off immediately in the upmarket Via Condotti (no backstreet for Valentino). And while he concentrated on sketching the dresses of dreams in the most exquisite fabrics, Giancarlo focused on how to make the business work.
It wasn't long before they were able to indulge in their love and understanding of the luxurious lifestyle that has become a part of the success and legend of the Valentino brand.
While many designers lead relatively private lives and observe their clients from a measured distance, Valentino and the famous women who buy his clothes share a world: one that involves yachts, private jets, chateaux, royalty, Hollywood, art and grand balls. Scroll down for more...
Keira Knightley in 2006 and model in 2007.
Such is the intensity of the Valentino social whirl that at times it seems inconceivable he could ever squeeze in the time to sketch the odd design. However, it is precisely his understanding of how his lifestyle and his fashion could enhance and support each other that has led to such a long and successful career.
Since Valentino has continued to stay in close proximity to the women who wear his clothes, he has never for an instant become distanced from the realities and needs of his customer.
Similarly, although there have been times when the glamorous Valentino style has been wildly out of kilter with fashion (think of the anger of punk, the dinginess of grunge, the austerity of minimalism), his work has always remained true to what he loves and believes in.
Consequently, the Valentino customer has always been safe in the knowledge that she would be able to find what she wanted.
Year after year at his prÍt-a-porter and couture shows, the Valentino models parade the looks which he has made his own: the white tailored suit, lace blouse, wide-legged flannel trousers, black cocktail dress and, of course, vivid scarlet evening gown of a shade that has come to be known as 'Rosso Valentino'.
His archetypal woman is always immaculate and groomed. Her make-up is inspired by the films of the Fifties, dark-eyed and red-lipped, her hair often tied back in a perfect chignon or otherwise tumbling in glossy waves.
And after the shows would be the decadent parties. A buffet at Giancarlo's Paris penthouse overlooking the Seine, hung with 20th-century art or a dinner for 60 at Valentino's chateau outside Paris, the lime treelined avenue leading up to it lit by hundreds of tea lights. Scroll down for more...
Marisa Berenson in 1967 and Naomi Campbell in 1999.
After a dinner of the best pasta, risottos and puddings in the world - organised by his ever-faithful aide-decamp, Michael - the dancing always starts with foot-tapping Eighties disco.
His decision to retire after nearly half a century at the helm has not come as any surprise.
At the beginning of the year, rumours began to filter through that Valentino was planning a huge party in Rome to coincide with the summer couture, where he was going to announce his retirement.
The extravaganza was indeed huge, and could have been pulled off only by him. Two months later, that announcement has arrived.
Three days of festivities were choreographed, and several of the most prestigious sites in Rome were commandeered for the Valentino celebration.
Socialites, movie stars and the fashion industry cleared their diaries for the weekend; private jets circled above the city in a holding pattern; and the world of fashion magazines converged on Rome's most exclusive hotels and restaurants.
An exhibition of 300 Valentino designs was sensationally installed at the site of the ancient sacrificial altar of Ara Pacis alongside video screens that showed the clothes being worn by the stars who have loved him.
Scenes of actress Monica Vitti, as a sex kitten in the movie La Notte, tumbling on a bed in Valentino's black lingerie-style dress; Julia Roberts at the Oscars in midnight blue; Jacqueline Kennedy in immaculate white tailoring, and many others, were watched by guests including Uma Thurman, Anna Wintour, Diane Von Furstenberg and Manolo Blahnik.
Valentino's couture show the following day included an unprecedented front row line-up of designers who uncompetitively leapt to their feet in a standing ovation: Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera, Philip Treacy, Giorgio Armani and Donatella Versace.
But it was at that evening's gala dinner in the gardens of the Villa Borghese that the world of Valentino climaxed in a perfect demonstration of the world he has spent his life creating, when the garden filled up with the most beautiful women in the world, all of whom were dressed in Valentino gowns.
In a couple of weeks, many of those present will be gathered again in Paris to see what will be his last ready-to-wear show.
And in January, after the couture shows, he will hand over the reins entirely to Alessandra Facchinetti, who took over from Tom Ford at Gucci. She will produce her first collection in March.
Of course, the problem for the House of Valentino is the same as that which will face many of our most successful designers over the next decade as they contemplate retirement. Can anyone else be entrusted with a multi-million-pound business built up by an inspired, but very individual, vision? It is a question to which legions of loyal Valentino followers eagerly await an answer. One thing is certain, the shadow from which Alessandra Facchinetti must emerge will be long indeed.
Viva Valentino: epic designer bows out | the Daily Mail=