During his nearly half-century career, the recently retired Valentino Garavani never skimped on his personal expenses, nor did he ever expect his customers to. Among his friends he counted princesses (Margaret) and movie stars (Elizabeth)—and his friends, inevitably, were his clients.

A virtuoso with delicate lace and chiffon, Valentino created a brand of glamour that was, and remains, all about opulent femininity. He championed alta moda for over 40 years—long after many houses had given up the couture ghost—and practically owned the color red. What does it tell you that both Jacqueline Onassis and Jennifer Lopez were married in gowns designed by the maestro?

Born in Italy in 1932, Valentino moved to Paris at 17. After working with Jean Dessès and Guy Laroche, he returned home in 1960 to set up his own atelier in Rome. There he partnered (professionally and personally) with Giancarlo Giammetti, who oversaw the financial end of the business. It was to prove one of fashion's most enduringly successful relationships.

Valentino's first major show, in 1962 at the Pitti Palace in Florence, announced his arrival on the international scene. Six years later, his Collezione Bianca made a monochrome splash and, with the unveiling of the house's now iconic "V" logo, paved the way for a global obsession with expensive initials. Valentino the man was almost as famous for his lifestyle as for his ravishing red-carpet gowns: He kept a 152-foot yacht kitted out with Picassos and four flat-screen televisions, and was reported to travel with a retinue that included a butler and six pugs.

France, in gratitude for Valentino's services to haute couture, honored him with the ultimate compliment in 2006: He was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. The designer celebrated the 45th anniversary of his career in 2007 with a three-day blowout in Rome; shortly thereafter, he announced his retirement. Alessandra Facchinetti—who had some prior experience with shoe-filling, having briefly stepped into Tom Ford's loafers at Gucci—was named Valentino's successor. After two ready-to-wear seasons and mostly positive reviews, she was replaced by the house's longtime accessory designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. The label's new owner, Permira, hopes to capitalize on the ten years the duo spent working at Valentino's side.

Spring 2014 Ready-to-Wear: Valentino

Runway, backstage, and front-row footage from the Paris show.

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