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Designer Valentino leaves

Italian designer Valentino, who has devoted 45 years to fashion, was stepping down as head designer of the Valentino fashion house.

In a statement, Valentino said he would complete his work in January, after showing his ready-to-wear collection in Paris in October and his couture collection there in January. No individual successor was named; Valentino said his existing team would continue designing for the house.

The 75-year-old Valentino said he had decided the time was right after he celebrated 45 years in the fashion world with a three-day, star-studded extravaganza in Rome this past July.

The party, which included a museum exhibit of his designs, a fashion show and a gala in the Roman Forum where Valentino-clad acrobats danced above the ruins, drew the likes of Mick Jagger, Princess Caroline of Monaco, model Claudia Schiffer and actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

"It would be impossible to equal the emotion and joy over the friendship and consideration that the world showed me on that occasion," Valentino said. "As such, I have decided that this is the perfect moment to say 'addio' (farewell) to the fashion world."

Valentino, born Valentino Garavani in 1932 in the northern Italian town of Voghera, began his career in Paris alongside Jean Desses and later Guy Laroche, moving to Rome in the early '60s to open his own fashion house.

He quickly became the maestro of Italian couture, counting Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis among his customers, but he also worked to bring fashion to a wider public.

In the '70s and '80s he was the first Italian designer to launch ready-to-wear collection for men and women. In 1982 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its doors to fashion by hosting a Valentino show.

Word of his retirement, first reported Tuesday by Women's Wear Daily, had long been anticipated. The designer, alongside longtime partner Giancarlo Giammetti, set the stage for his exit by selling the business side of the house, while remaining in creative control of the atelier.

After first selling to the publicly traded Marzotto group, Valentino was bought again this year by the Permira private equity fund as the global private equity boom found its way to the fashion industry.

In the biggest deal at the time, Permira paid 782.6 million EUR(US$1.06 billion) for a controlling stake in Valentino in a deal that valued the fashion house at 2.6 billion EUR(US$3.52 billion).

Valentino said he was certain the Valentino house would change, but that he hoped that the team he had put in place "would know how to continue my work in a way that would make me proud."

As for his own plans, Valentino said his future would be full of new commitments, some linked to fashion.

"It's my intention to create and support institutions that promote the study of design and preserve the art of fashion," he said. "I think that would be the best way to continue this marvelous adventure that I have had the privilege of living."

The city of Rome has been asking Valentino to help it become once again a fashion capital, and the city has set aside a building that is being renovated to host a permanent Valentino collection.

While fellow Italian designer Donatella Versace often courted the sexy set and Giorgio Armani the businesswoman, Valentino always attracted elegant high society, with his ultra-feminine lines, delicate prints and diaphanous fabrics.

His menswear line was also hugely popular with the jet-setting elite, with high-end casual wear that was as much at home on a yacht in the Mediterranean as on the red carpet.

His menswear designs were often inspired by his villa in Capri. Valentino also has a home in Rome, a chalet in Gstaad, an apartment in New York and a town house in London. But he spends most of his time at his castle outside Paris, with his beloved pugs.

With his perpetual tan and perfectly coiffed hair, the impeccably dressed Valentino has long been a favorite of Hollywood - and something of a good luck charm come Oscar time. Cate Blanchett won Best Supporting Actress in 2005 for "The Aviator," wearing a pale yellow one-shouldered gown Valentino made for her.

Julia Roberts won best actress for "Erin Brockovich" in 2001 wearing a vintage black-and-white velvet column dress with white straps forming a "Y" down the front.

Both dresses are on display at a stunning Valentino retrospective at Rome's Ara Pacis museum, installed in conjunction with the 45th anniversary celebrations.

Longtime client Sofia Loren said Valentino had brought "Made in Italy" to the world.

"His class, his talent, his unparalleled 'red,' his favorite color, seduced the entire world," the ANSA news agency quoted Loren as saying. "His name is synonymous with elegance."

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