Born in Naples in 1927, Mario Valentino began his career as a designer against the backdrop of post-war Italy. His father had made bespoke shoes for the Neapolitan aristocracy before the war and Valentino therefore grew up among the artisanal processes of leather craftsmanship, later earning himself the nickname ‘King of Leather’ for his studied mastery of the material. An innovator in design, Valentino intuitively responded to the dynamism of mid-century Europe and its demand for rich colours, voluptuous silhouettes and high, sculptural shoes. As European products began to enter the American market reinvigorated by the economic boost of the Marshall Plan, so too did Valentino’s designs captivate an international audience, with the particular, elegant cachet of quality conferred by the ‘Made In Italy’ label. Along with Roger Vivier, Mario Valentino was one of the earliest exponents of the low-cut stiletto and a pioneer of the flat sandal, at one point scandalising the fashion world by creating a sandal made of coral. Praised by Diana Vreeland, Valentino’s deconstructed sandals were iconically photographed by a young Guy Bourdin for the cover of French Vogue in 1956, engaging a new wave of high-profile customers including Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Catherine Deneuve.
Among his contemporaries in the landscape of Italian fashion, Valentino counted the Marquis Emilio Pucci and Salvatore Ferragamo, both of whom were gaining ground in the European and American markets. The twin passions for art and fashion were felt keenly by this generation of young designers, whose aesthetic sensibilities in the world of couture translated into a devotion to Italian art and collecting. Valentino himself sponsored the restoration of hand-embroidered tapestries and sixteenth-century frescoes at the Neapolitan convent of Santa Chiara. He housed part of his collection in his apartment at the Palazzo Cellamare adorning rooms already filled with elegant 1920-30s furniture. This collection featured works by Andy Warhol, who became a friend, Gino Severini, Giorgio de Chirico and Art Nouveau objects by René Lalique and Marius-Ernest Sabino. Valentino also filled his retail and manufacturing spaces with fine art and precious objects; the collection was to be experienced and enjoyed not only by himself but by those living and working around him. The designer had developed a firm friendship with dealer and curator Lucio Amelio, who exhibited international contemporary artists at his gallery in Naples. His friendship with Amelio proved to be a seminal one, whose patronage of exhibitions at the gallery was key to transforming the city into a bastion of the avant-garde landscape of the 1980s.
A celebrated designer and dedicated patron of the arts, Mario Valentino shaped a fashion empire from its beginnings as a local service for well-heeled Neapolitans into a global phenomenon and cultural legacy. From clothing collaborations with Paco Rabanne and Karl Lagerfeld to his work with iconic image-makers Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, Valentino ranks among one of the most beloved designers of the twentieth century.
Further works from the Mario Valentino collection will be offered in the following London auctions: Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale on 20th June 2018, Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 26th June 2018 and the Surrealist Art Sale in February 2019.
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