Will Oscars 2008 Be Valentino’s Valedictory?

Here’s my prediction for this coming Superfrock Sunday: Valentino! Valentino! Valentino!

I’m betting that the retiring couturier will dominate the Oscar red carpet (red is, after all, Val’s signature color!) with creations from his archives and from his final couture and ready-to-wear collections. Sunday, Feb. 24, will be Val’s day. There, I’ve said it.

Now let’s talk about this so-called “retirement.”

Is it me, or is Valentino Garavano, the tan-fastic Italian legend, enjoying the most protracted orgy of retirement celebrations in the history of high fashion? Just when you think the final curtain has come down on his illustrious 45-year career, darn me if it doesn’t whoosh right back up again. Just when you think he has gone out with a big bang, Val enters stage left and goes out with an even bigger bang. Watch out, Cher! Val’s farewell tour is starting to make your two-year slogathon look like a flash in the pan.

This longest of goodbyes kicked off last summer with a three-day, tiara-strewn shindig in Rome. A who’s who of international self-indulgent fabulousness, Val’s bash throbbed with royalty, Hollywood and otherwise: There were princesses from France, Jordan and Bulgaria. There were queens from Greece, and that was just the men!

As things turned out, this party was not so much a farewell as a warm-up. In the fall, Val wowed us with his final prêt-à-porter extravaganza; then, this spring, the final couture show, and then a flossy farewell in Palm Beach and then, and then … Just when you think the last fireworks have sputtered, they start up again.

As I watch the Valentino yacht sailing metaphorically out of the harbor—but never really going anywhere—I keep hearing, in the back of my mind, an old Gracie Fields music hall song titled “He’s Dead, But He Won’t Lie Down.”

My sister’s young man is a hundred and three.

Yes, a hundred and three is he,

And he’s real cold storage meat

From his head right to his feet,

He’s dead, but he won’t lie down.

I am also reminded of one of my primary school teachers, a sadistic creature called Miss Wibble. For the entire year preceding her gleefully anticipated retirement, we scabby-kneed urchins were all guilt-tripped into putting pennies in a tin in order to buy the horrid bitch a refrigerator. (Welcome to my gritty postwar English childhood.) She retired, got bored and returned to work six months later, giving rise to speculation that she was angling for more appliances. Miss Wibble was dead, but she wouldn’t lie down.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Valentino. I come to praise not to bury him. And I am certainly not accusing him of being geriatric. At 76 years old, the divine Signor Garavano continues to cut a dashing figure. (And when I say “continues,” believe me, I mean “CONTINUES!”)

But seriously, folks, I worship Valentino and all the old-school glamour for which he stands. (I only wish I had more access to it.) And I do not begrudge him a moment of his sumptuously extended sayonara. He deserves it all. With his joie de vivre, his pugs, his posh palazzos and his perma-tan, he is a beacon of inspiration to us all.

I am convinced that Val, with his majestically slower-than-slow curtain call, is really on to something. Maybe we should all strive to emulate him and orchestrate a big protracted wow-look-at-me whenever a chapter of our lives draws to a close. Think about it! After gowning it up for 45 years—or heck, even five years—why shuffle off into the corner with your pinking shears between your legs? Val’s ability to mark the occasion—and then mark it again, and again!—should serve as a reminder to all of us to add a few punctuation marks to our lives.

Inspired by Val, I have elected to add more panache to my milestones. When I finish this column I fully intend to celebrate with a hot cup of kukicha tea, and then another one. Next year will be my 10th anniversary at this newspaper and don’t think for a minute that the occasion will go unmarked. My hope is that the nonstop unconfined bacchanalia will carry straight through to my 15th anniversary. Speaking of anniversaries: Why let your birthday drift by with one sad little dinner, or cupcake? Mark the occasion with a bunting-decked month of glee. And then mark it encore!

With or without all the hoopla, Val’s departure is both sad and significant. Who will fill his highly polished low-rise loafers? As the super-glossy ringmaster of international luxury—it’s a szooshy job, but somebody’s got to do it—he has no obvious successor. Today’s designers, with their pretentiously enigmatic poses, shy away from the displays of chinchilla-bedspread opulence that have made Val such a total gas. Marc Jacobs, with his newfound love of diamond jewelry and his blue-chip art collection, has started to exhibit tell-tale signs that he might have what it takes, though it’s hard to imagine Val ever showing up, as Marc did at his recent holiday party, dressed as Camel Toe.

So next Sunday, when you sit down to watch the Academy Awards, why not hop aboard the Val train? Start by scenting yourself with one of his signature perfumes: say, V, or Rock & Rose Couture. (Remember it was Val who showed us how to apply perfume: You spritz a cloud in the air and walk into it. Do not hose your skin with the nozzle, like a common tart!) And while you’re at it, throw on a red Valentino chiffon gown. (If you don’t have such a thing in your closet, then that old red holiday muumuu with the applique’d snowman—worn inside out—will do just fine.) And at the end of the night, don’t feel compelled to take your frock off. The following dawn is sure to see a Val farewell fete somewhere in the World. …

Will Oscars 2008 Be Valentino’s Valedictory?