Before there was Valentino ‘PP’ pink – the Pantone-official shade that made up the majority of Pierpaolo Piccioli’s A/W 2022 collection and has been a red-carpet fixture ever since – there was Valentino red, the favoured hue of house founder Valentino Garavani, who turned 90 on 11 May 2022. 

‘Red is a colour that is not shy,’ said Garavani, who has been dubbed ‘the last emperor of fashion’ since his retirement from the house in 2008. Immortalised best in Deborah Turbeville’s seminal photographs of Valentino’s 1977 couture collection – whereby a millefeuille crimson gown emerges amid a sea of women in black – the colour came to symbolise Garavani’s bold approach, sensual and theatrical at once (the designer said the lifelong obsession came from watching a production of Carmen in Barcelona as a child, which had an all-red set).

It is fitting, then, that a new exhibition to mark Garavani’s 90th birthday takes place at Teatro Sociale di Voghera, a dramatic 1842-built theatre found in Italy’s northern Pavia region (until 5 June 2022). Taking over the theatre’s circular auditorium – which was renovated in 2018 after nearly three decades of disrepair – visitors will discover works from the designer’s 50 years at the helm lining the various balconies, spanning the 1960s to the 2000s. On the stage itself is a collection of dresses in Valentino red from across the archive, ‘an anthology of styles that have each been able to embody the spirit of their time’. 

‘It is a metaphor in which Valentino’s women are both actresses and spectators, without differences, all belonging to a global vision that represents a total idea of beauty and femininity in which each subject is on the same level,’ says the brand of the show’s site-specific design. Alongside the archival clothing, various pieces of ephemera are also on display, from studies, sketches and drawings, to newspaper clippings and photographs that ‘depict the time in which the clothes made their debut’.

Garavani’s birthday celebrations continue next month with the release of a special hoody, the proceeds of which will go towards his namesake foundation, Fondazione Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti (the limited-edition piece is able to be pre-ordered now). A simple black design, it is adorned with one of the designer’s famed quotes, written in Valentino red: ‘I love beauty, it’s not my fault’. §