PARIS, Oct 4 (Reuters) Designer to the stars, Italy's Valentino unveiled glamorous gowns fit for any young starlet in his last ready-to-wear show before retiring after 45 years in fashion.
Models in bright cocktail dresses and long gowns in his signature red, or with polka dots and ruffles, glided down a mirrored catwalk before twirling in front of the cameras.
Party music accompanied the show, with the models dancing at the end and guests rising for the obligatory standing ovation.
One of the undisputed kings of fashion, Valentino will retire in January after a final haute couture show and hand the reins to relatively unknown designer Alessandra Facchinetti.
''This is the one before the last and I want to do my best, and why not?'' the 75-year-old Valentino asked.
''I am full of joy and a little emotional of course, and I am very strong because as I told you ... I leave the room, but the room is still full.'' His departure follows the sale of his Valentino Fashion Group to the European private equity group Permira, which industry insiders have said want a younger, more innovative designer to help it expand to new markets.
Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue thought it was time for a change, saying Valentino needed some new ideas.
''It's boring,'' she said after the show. ''It's not good, it's not modern. Why do we constantly say it's beautiful? Why?'' IRREPLACEABLE Valentino's signature scarlet evening gowns have long made him a hit for red carpet events, where he has dressed famous names like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn and Julia Roberts. His conservative style still attracts many fans.
''It's very definitely the end of an era. Valentino is irreplaceable,'' said Hilary Alexander, fashion director at Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.
''He understands his customers, he has a respect for women and a lifelong appreciation of beauty.'' Valentino is widely ranked alongside Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld as the last of the great designers from an era before fashion became a global, highly commercial industry run as much by accountants and marketing executives as the couturiers.
''We were a bit disappointed. We thought he might carry on a bit longer,'' said Ken Downing, fashion director at upmarket U.S.
store Neiman Marcus.
Lagerfeld said he also regretted his competitor's departure.
''I'm not very happy,'' he said after his own show. ''He's on top form, he should continue.'' Lagerfeld, whose name is now owned by a private equity company Apax Partners, presented a youthful collection for his own label, which took inspiration from the 1980s. Models paraded on a rainbow-striped runway in short ruffled skirts or trousers of black see-through tulle.
Lagerfeld, who also designs for Chanel, edits books and who is approaching 70, said he had no intention of slowing down.
''The number of contracts I have, I'm like a man with a death sentence,'' he said.
Christian Lacroix, another firm fixture on the Paris fashion scene whose label was sold in 2005 to a privately held US investment company, used headwear to give his collection an extravagant theme.
Hand-painted silk caftans, cutaway swimsuits or floaty dresses were teamed with printed scarves wound around the neck and piled up on top of the head.
REUTERS SZ HT0854