Valentino Garavani is the last grand survivor of the great days of haute couture, and after 50 years, his old-school conviction is something to be witnessed. His vision is of impeccably composed femininity: high, high chignons, red lips, and displays of richesse at all times of the day and night. In an era when "luxury" is an over-used buzzword, his clothes can still show what it used to mean to have all the time in the world to dress, when wealth was something only to be hinted at.

With Shirley Bassey singing "Diamonds Are Forever" on the soundtrack, he sent out a sparkling, micro-pleated white dress with a tiny white mink bolero snuggled on top. That was followed by a white fur coat, belted in diamanté and falling into petaled panels. That extravagance—in your face, but somehow never vulgar in the modern sense—was his keynote. He used fur (fox, honey sable, mink, leopard) at every conceivable opportunity, in cropped jackets, on sleeves, trimming suits and coats, even fluffing erotically in the décolleté of evening dresses.

At a time when many upcoming Parisian designers are looking to couture touches as inspiration, Valentino is there to show how a satin bow tied under a bust, or a voluminous skirt flared gorgeously in back, should be done. Some of his looks—from bustier gowns to glamorous jumpsuits with jeweled boleros—still carry the kind of fifties-to-seventies references that send the new generation into ecstasies. For that alone, he must be honored. Who in the world can sustain the lifestyle that supports this sort of wardrobe these days is another question, for another day. It's a throwback to another world—but then again, what a world that was.