10/01/2007 01:22 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

My Roman Holiday with Valentino

Thursday, July 5th
Arrival Day: All Roads Lead to Rome

All eyes are on Rome this weekend for a three-day, $10-million celebration of "Valentino a
Roma: 45 Years of Style," an exhibit that encapsulates grace and everlasting beauty. We are
ready to rock'n'roll with the 1,000 European aristocrats, movie stars, socialites and journal-
ists who are descending on The Eternal City hell-bent on living la dolce vita.

By noon the group I am traveling with--American industrialist David Koch and his gorgeous statuesque wife Julia, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Charlie and Sara Ayers and Brad
Cosimar, the best friend of Valentino global PR maven Carlos Souza--check into the fabulously chic Hotel de Russie, which has terraced gardens inches away from the Spanish Steps
and the 18th-century Palazzo Mignanelli, where Valentino's Louis XIV-style office--and its
26-foot ceilings--is located.

In each guest's room is a white canvas tote from L.L. Bean embroidered
with endless red Valentino logos , and a note personally signed by our host.
We get a detailed schedule of events, a book , aviator sunglasses and a gold
plastic entrance card with our name, preferred arrival times at each event
and the warning, "Sono di ri gore smoking e abi to lungo." No one can
get near a red carpet without this gold card, which is now worth gold.

Silver chauffeured Mercedes minivans with multilingual guides are
at our beck and call every day. Thursday afternoon we visit the
Piazza Navona with the Fountain of the Four Rivers, The Pantheon,
The Trevi Fountain (where we borrow Euros from our guide and throw her
money in the water), the Circus Maximus (used for chariot races in 2 B.C.
and more recently the back drop for Ben Hur), and The Victor Emanuel II
monument, a colossal white marble structure dedicated to the memory of
Italy's first king, who was the great-grandfather of Umberto II, the last king
of Italy and the great-great-grandfather of our traveling buddy Dimitri.

Friday, July 6th
10am Sightseeing: The Roman Forum

The silver Mercedes reappear and take us to the Roman Forum. It is hot. It
is crowded. We are tourists, and we love it. We walk to the Colosseum and
pass 40 huge, chalk-white, fiberglass Doric columns rising out of the Temple of Venus. We realize they are not antiquities but replicas for the party.
We are whisked to the front of the line as a guide announces that Donald
Trump will be attending Valentino's party tonight. (Oddly, a no show.)

1pm, Le Jardin de Russie

Our group has a quick lunch on the terrace.We tell Judy Taubman, who is
at the next table, that we are going on a private tour of The Vatican. She
tells us she has done the tour twice, met the Pope and been to his pri-
vate apartment. (She must have a better travel agent than we do.)

3pm, A Private Tour of the Vatican

We have fussed and discussed our Vatican outfits for days. We are
dressed in tailored suits as our silver chariots drive us past hundreds of
people waiting on line wearing T-shirts and flip-flops. Our guide races us
through Vatican City--the palaces, art gallery, the museum of antiquities,
the map room, and the Sistine Chapel, which is packed like a subway station. We're led through a tiny door, down a dark hallway, up some steps
into a room lined with closets ...and I whisper, "Holy macaroni, we are in
the Pope's robing room." We can't believe it. The guide begins to take out
the Pope's undergarments and embroidered robes. We feel his gold
threads, running our unwashed hands over everything. We are shown all
the jewel-encrusted miters, rosaries, shoes, gloves and chalices. We are in
clothing heaven--and this is before we see a single Valentino dress. We are
about to try on the Pope's skullcap, when Anna Wintour walks in with her
daughter, Bee Shaffer, and the Monsignor in charge of ceremonies. Our
guide could be headed straight to hell. We freeze. The Monsignor pulls
him aside . . . and miraculously everything is fine. We sign the guest book
and notice Sarah Jessica Parker was there right before us. I think about
putting J.A.P. after my name, but as a guest of Valentino, Rome's most
famous citizen after the Pope, I decide to play it straight.

7:30pm The Exhibition;
Valentino a Roma: 45 Years of Style
Museum of Ara Pacis, Via Ripetta

The Ara Pacis is the "altar of majestic peace" built in 9 B.C. It is now
housed in a stunning but controversial museum designed by Richard
Meier. (Meier, whose name was on every press release, was oddly
another no show. A week later, he confides to me it was "one of the bigger mistakes of my life.") Patrick Kinmonth, the British opera
stage designer, and Roman Antonio Monfreda designed the installation. Hamish Bowles, European editor at large of Vogue, was the
archival consultant who curated the 300 dresses. Giancarlo
Giammetti, Valentino's brilliant business partner of 45 years, one-
time companion and confidant, oversaw everything.
Entering the opening night of the exhibition is as thrilling as lighting the Olympic torch and winning the Oscar for lifetime achievement at the same time.

We ascend a huge, white marble staircase to be greeted and kissed by
Valentino with Giancarlo at his side. At 75, Valentino is very slender, very
tan, very coiffed, very charming and very, very excited. As he embraces
every guest, he also makes sure the photographer gets the two-shot. We
enter a dark tunnel with three tiers of mannequins wearing magnificent
clothes and attached to sky-high walls. Next we are in a sun-drenched glass
box that ironically illuminates evening dresses, which are also juxtaposed
against dark Cyprus trees and a blue sky.

The symbolic centerpiece is Valentino's white 1990 Peace dress with the
word peace embroidered in silver in 14 languages. Valentino called every
embassy to have them fax the correct spelling of "peace" in their language .
Red-clad, goddess-like gilded mannequins flank either side of the altar with
their arms outstretched like a chorus of angels. We descend a staircase lined in a
rainbow of colored gowns. Champagne is passed among the world's most
famous and beautiful women, who are dressed in Valentino they either own or
have borrowed. Uma Thurman, Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth Hurley, Elle McPherson, Claudia Schiffer, Clare Danes, Eva Mendes, Sienna Miller, Natalia Vodianova, Cornelia Guest, Anna Wintour, Joan Collins and 80-year-old Gina Lollobrigida are just a few of the impeccably
dressed women floating around. It is an overload of
beauty. I don't know where to look first.

The exhibition also has muslin dummies
embroidered with movie stars names on the
necks. These display Valentino's most iconic
celebrity dresses--the ones worn by Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Princess Diana, Julia Roberts,
Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Taylor--and video
monitors play mini-movies, Oscar acceptance
speeches or just grand entrances. This is very cool.
The exhibition is open to the public until October
28 and is worth a trip to Rome.

Friday, July 6th
9:30 pm Opening Night Dinner
Temple of Venus, Via San Gregorio

Since Valentino donated $270,000 to the city of Rome, Mayor Walter Veltroni gave him unprecedented access to The Temple of Venus,
an ancient site so sacred that the Pope visits once a year by himself.
Too bad he is out of town this weekend.

The 40 fiberglass replica Doric columns we had seen this morning on our walk through the forum are now glowing from within.
At one end is a brand new gigantic statue of Venus in an enormous niche. At the opposite end, we see the Colosseum, now
bathed in red lights.The panorama is breathtaking.

Valentino wanted the dinner to feel as if it were in one of his
homes, and the food was cooked by his personal chef. Renowned Oscar-
winning, Italian movie designer Dante Ferretti recreated the original
temple. Even the weather, their biggest uncontrollable worry, was perfect .

The evening originally was planned for 250 gold-card-carrying
guests, but has now swelled to 500. We dine under the stars on white
couches and chairs situated in living room-like clusters. Former Italian
Premier Silvio Berlusconi sits with Princess Caroline of Hanover and
the Shah OfIran's widow, Empress Farah Diba Pahlavi.

Also dining under the stars are Alexis Bryan, Amy Sacco, Barry Diller,
Lauren Davis and her fiance Andres Santo Domingo, Wendy Finerman,
Eva Mendes, Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller,
Elle MacPherson, Georgina Chapman and Harvey Weinstein, Graziano De Boni, Hamilton
South, Kate Betts, Jane Sarkin, Annelise Peterson, Valesca Guerrand-
Hermès, Ellen Niven, Mark Gilbertson, Tamara Mellon, Alice Bam-
ford, Carole Bamford, Bianca Brandolini, Rebecca de Ravenel, Olivia
Chantecaille, Alessandra Borghese, Coco Brandolini, Eugenie Niar-
chos, Stefano Tonchi, Christian Louboutin and Rena Sindi.

In front of the Colosseum, a light show and shower of fireworks
explodes in synchronization with an opera sung by Maria Callas.
Three acrobatic dancers in flowing, fairy-like red Valentino dresses
whirl above the ruins and float like birds on a wire strung across the
Colosseum, which is now lit with different colors. A dancer in white
emerges from the ground and ascends into the sky with a giant blue
globe balloon that is painted with the word"Valentino" repeated in
golden circles. It is a happening of such heavenly beauty that these 500
sophisticated guests are reduced to children squealing with amazement.
Only Valentino could have made the Colosseum, the very symbol of Imperial Rome, even more exquisite.

Saturday, July 7th
10am A Private Tour of the Palazzo Colonna

Pedro Girao, a European advisor for Christie's, has arranged a private tour
of the Palazzo Colonna, which was built in the 15th century. Like many
palaces in Rome, the exterior is grand but simple, camouflaging a life
of sumptuousness inside. The noble Colonnas plastered their red coat
of arms (a column) on every inch of their possessions. They amassed
one of the largest privately held priceless art collections in the world. As
Pedro patiently explains the history, David Koch, the most inquisitive of
our group, humbly and hilariously admits his entire 25,000-square-foot
Palm Beach Mizner mansion could fit into the Colonnas' humungous

1pm Marina Palma's Lunch for Valentino at
Dal Bolognese Overlooking the Piazza del

"VaVa," as the press call Valentino, is with his models in last minute fit-
tings, preparing for his couture show, but everyone from his inner sanctum is here. David Koch and I sit with Princess Marie Chantal and
Prince Pavlos of Greece, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Elizabeth
Hurley and her charming new husband Arun Nayar, Lynn Wyatt and
Donald Moore, Marina's banker boyfriend. Tim Jeffries stops by the
table to announce he just proposed to his model girlfriend Malin
Johansson the night before, and she flashes her multi-carat ring.

Bob Colacello holds court outside. He is writing a piece for Vanity
and has been scribbling in his notebook for days. He and VF's
Wendy Stark amuse Caroline of Monaco, Ernst of Hanover, Allison
Sarofim, Stuart Parr, London decorator Nicky Haslam and Baroness
Helene Ludinghausen.

Susan Gutfreund, Marisa Berenson, Doris Brynner, Francois Catroux,
Marina Cicogna, Jacqueline de Ribes, Daphne Guinness, Kenny Jay Lane,
Lee Radziwill, Beatrice and Julio Maria Santo Domingo, Reinaldo Herrera, Rosita, Duchess of Marlboro, and Princess Ira von Furstenberg are just a few of Valentino's devoted and loyal friends at the lunch. They
kiss-kiss and kiss-kiss each other non stop all afternoon and continue
to marvel at the magic of last night's magnificent show.

This is the day Valentino asks his women to change their clothes
four times, and they could not be happier. We start with the cool
casual breakfast/shopping/sightseeing outfit, move into the day-
time chic lunch ensemble, change into a late afternoon cocktail
dress for the show, and once more redo ourselves head to toe,
pouring our bodies into ball gowns for the gala--my idea of a
perfect day.

5pm Presentation of the Fall-Winter
2007/08 Couture Collection
Complesso Monumentale S. Spirito in
Saxia, Borgo S. Spirito 1

Once again, those silver Mercedes bring us to another spectacular venue for the couture show: a restructured 16th-century medieval building, the Complesso Monumentale of
Santo Spirito in Sassia, originally used as a convent and a
stone's throw from the Vatican.

Dante Ferretti, Federico Fellini's and Marty Scorsese's
Oscar-winning set designer, has lined the endless walls
with a vast photo retrospective of Valentino's black-
and-white advertising and editorial images, evoking
the look of a massive art gallery.

We need to show that gold ID card to get in . . . society to the
white gallery, press to the black gallery. One thousand famous
people, still kissing each other, eventually settle into three rows
that are a mile long.

The clothes Valentino sends down the runway are as explosive as the fireworks from the night before. The opulent
and vibrant evening gowns are bedecked with enough jewels, feathers, beads and bows to wow even the most blasè
red-carpet paparazzi.

Equally impressive is the line-up of Valentino's col-
leagues in the front row, which indicates his enormous
popularity. Sitting next to each other are Diane von
Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Manolo Blahnik, Tom Ford,
Donatella Versace, Giorgio Armani, Philip Treacy, Car-
olina Herrera and Karl Lagerfeld, whom Valentino has
known for 52 years.

At the finale, everyone jumps to their feet and wildly
cheers as Valentino strides down the runway behind his
models.He is wearing an immaculate white fitted suit and has
his arms in the air like a conquering gladiator. He is crying.

9:30pm Gala Dinner
Galleria Borghese-Via Pinciana

The lobby of the Hotel de Russie is clogged with swans in
Valentino ball gowns--Julia Koch in white, Sara Ayres in red,
Marie Chantal in pink, Anne Hathaway in black, Jennifer
Hudson in brown and Sarah Jessica Parker in gold.

Senator and jet-set racounteur Mario D'Urso spontaneously
drives me over to the Villa Borghese and gives me a tour of the Galleria Borghese museum with its Caravaggios, Canovas and Bernini
sculptures. He introduces me to every noble Italian in Italian--which
is a little scary. We stroll through the gardens into a vast, Chinese-
themed, tented dining room designed, once again, by Dante Fer-
retti and built especially for the evening--complete with tufted
ceilings, palm trees and lacquered red and black walls, recreating
the exotic glamour of Shanghai in the 1920s.

During dinner, snippets of the cinema veritè documentary
on Valentino are shown. The documentary was produced and
directed by Matt Tyrnauer, a veteran VF journalist. He has
been globetrotting for two years, filming Valentino's life of
"art, beauty and love" on the designer's 152-foot yacht and in
his five homes: Rome, London, Gstaad, Paris and Manhattan.
Tyrnauer describes his film as a celebration of the "last
emperor of haute couture."

Valentino then makes a very short speech to everyone who
has shared his unforgettable weekend,"I love you, all of you,
very much." Chanteuse Annie Lennox, wearing her first
Valentino, sings Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), and
Mick Jagger, fresh from his sold-out performance the
night before (attended by Lance Armstrong and Tory
Burch) jumps up on the dance floor . . . along with Uma
Thurman, Rupert Everett and the girls in red: Claudia Schiffer,
Sienna Miller, Natasha Richardson and Lynn Wyatt in a 25-year-
old gown. Claire Danes snakes her tight body around Hugh
Dancy's tight body as they dirty dance the night away.

Also celebrating are Valentino's American boyfriends since
1982, Bruce Hoeksema; Valentino's and Giancarlo's god-children, Sean
Souza and his brother Anthony along with their dad Carlos and mom
Charlene de Ganay; Nati Abascal and her son Duque de Feria; Lita,George
and Stavros Livanos; Lord Charles Spencer Churchill; Carolina Herrera,
Jr.; Prince and Princess Pierre d'Arenberg; Count and Countess Ravenal;
HRH Princess Firyal of Jordan; Eugenia Silva and Alejandro Santo
Domingo; Eugenia and John Radziwill; Baronne Silvie de Waldner;
Stephen and Christine Schwarzman; Giles Bensimon and Diana Widmaier
Picasso; Margherita Missoni; Charlotte and Andrea Casiraghi (Princess
Caroline's gorgeous children); Glenda Bailey; Pamela Fiori; Patrick
McCarthy; Andrè Leon Talley; Fabiola Beracasa; Jennifer Creel; Rachel
Zoe; Delphine Arnault Gancia; Taki Theodoracopulos; Theodora
Richards; Georgia and Elizabeth Jagger.

In the end, Valentino's only disappointment is missing Gwyneth Pal-
trow, who smashed her knee tripping over furniture and is on crutches in
her East Hampton home, and Meryl Streep, who sent her husband Don
Gummer and their daughter Mamie. Valentino had a cameo in The Devil
Wears Prada and became very friendly with Meryl, but she is stuck in
Stockholm preparing to film the hit Abba musical, Mamma Mia!

Well, mamma mia,Valentino! His lucky friends will reminisce for years
to come about this extraordinary event. Rome wasn't built in a day, but
Valentino transformed it in three. Bravo Valentino!