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Best Weekend Ever

The Lowdown On Valentino's Incredible Roman Extravaganza

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Elle Macpherson and Uma Thurman, at the Temple of Venus.
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Valentino Garavani and Princess Rosario of Bulgaria, at the Villa Borghese.
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Sienna Miller, at the Villa Borghese.
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"Make it beautiful." That was all Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti told Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfreda when they hired them to design an exhibition marking 45 years of the designer's work. Everyone connected with the anniversary celebrations in Rome had clearly been given the same brief. The century is still young, but Valentino has set the party bar impossibly high with his 36-hour extravaganza.

There were four main way stations: Friday's exhibition opening at the Meier-designed Ara Pacis Museum followed by a dinner at the Temple of Venus, then Saturday's presentation of Valentino's couture collection and a black-tie ball on the grounds of the Villa Borghese. So, plenty of opportunities for Val's gals to work their way through a wardrobe of his outfits. His tribe included an empress (Farah Diba Pahlavi of Iran), a clutch of princesses (Firyal of Jordan, Caroline of Hanover, Marie-Chantal of Greece, Rosario of Bulgaria), show-biz royalty (Joan Collins, Sarah Jessica Parker, Uma Thurman) and a small army of Italian aristocrats and American socialites.

"Nothing looks old," a bedazzled Elizabeth Saltzman Walker declared, speaking for everyone at the Ara Pacis. To prove the point, Dr. Lisa Airan was wearing a dress from the archive that was designed 40 years ago but could have been from Saturday's show. "Valentino made one of my wedding dresses," Astrid Muñoz said cryptically. "It was red."

The weekend's star turn came from Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti. First, he convincingly recreated the Temple of Venus with fiberglass columns. The stunning illusion was compounded by the looming (real-life) Colosseum, which provided a surreal backdrop for an aerial ballet of Valentino-clad sprites, followed by a display of fireworks. Then, for Saturday's ball, Ferretti put up a tent that was so huge and solid that there were those among the 1,000 guests who believed they'd entered a beautifully preserved classical structure. Except, of course, that Ferretti had kitted out the interior as an Art Deco palace in Shanghai. Annie Lennox sang, excerpts from a feature-length doc about Valentino were screened, and people were probably still dancing as the Sunday sun rose over Rome.

Tom Ford marveled at Valentino's "ability to have created and maintained a loyal family of people who work and play with him," and, believe it or not, there was something of a family vibe in the midst of all the splendor. Uma was toting her sleepy daughter on Saturday night, Marie-Chantal's and Elle Macpherson's children scooted round the Ara Pacis, and there were rug rats—or is that rug-ragazzi?—everywhere all weekend. Then there were the clients and their Val-clad daughters, like a teenage Alice Dellal in one of her mother Andrea's vintage pieces. With this much youth on display, it's clear that Valentino is thoroughly invested in the future, making it even harder to credit the talk about his retirement.
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