On the eve of his final couture show held in Paris on Wednesday, Valentino Garavani was telling Italian newspapers that business is ruining the fashion industry and that he wished he had had time to groom a successor before retiring.
Earlier this year, Permira, the private equity company, won a battle with The Carlyle Group for control of the Valentino business, which at the time was split up amongst several shareholders who had aligned themselves with different investors, leading to a down-to-the-wire battle for the venerable Italian fashion house. This may explain why Mr Valentino chose to use particularly strong language to describe the state of the fashion industry, telling Italy's Messagero newspaper that:
"The world of fashion has now been ruined. I got rather bored of continuing in a world which doesn't say anything to me. There is little creativity and too much business. The young are all doing the same things."
This is not the first time that the acrimony surrounding Permira's acquisition and Mr. Valentino's abrupt departure has appeared in the press. Giancarlo Giammetti, Mr. Valentino's business partner, told Cathy Horyn that financial investors in fashion do not respect or understand the creative side of the business. He asked "Why should we go on explaining? Why should we go on fighting? For what?"
Nestled between the socialites and royalty (both fashion and otherwise) in the front row of Valentino's final couture show was Alessandra Facchinetti, the former Gucci womenswear designer and Valentino's replacement (named after some serious industry speculation). Of his successor, Valentino said the night before:
"We haven't met. I gave her some advice, it will be up to her to find her way. I regret not to have had the time nor the will to groom an heir."
In January, Facchinetti gave us a first peek at what may be in store for Valentino under her reign in her pre-Fall for 2008, a collection which was generally well received. She told Style.com
"You can't imagine how honored I am. It was the last thing I thought would happen. I can't compare Valentino with anyone. He is a part of the history of fashion. This is a new start."
Valentino's regret at not leaving on his own terms, with a handpicked replacement installed, is completely understandable. However, it seems unfair not to acknowledge that the business of the fashion industry has also made him a very rich man, and that he would not have achieved this level of success (or lifestyle) without it. That not all of the investors respected Valentino's immense talent as much as Ms. Facchinetti does is extremely unfortunate (just have a look at his final couture show) -- and not only for Valentino.