Valentino Garavani, 80, is one of the world’s most distinguished fashion designers, with a client list that has ranged from Jackie Kennedy to Julia Roberts. Awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 2006, he formally retired two years later.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
To be a movie star. They were the most elegant people I had ever seen, so I wanted to learn fashion.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Public school until 17, then straight to fashion school in Paris. It was fun and exciting, I was 17 and I was struggling with money, so I did some extra parts in movies. In school we would learn how to sketch. We were sent to important fashion houses to see fittings and shows. Back then, it was just couture. Women would change three times a day. Fashion houses held a fashion show for clients every afternoon. It’s impossible to compare to today. Everything has changed; fashion became a profession, a moneymaking career. When I began we had problems even hiring an accountant. Men did not want to work in a fashion company, it was not good for their career.
Who was or still is your mentor?
I don’t have one mentor, but Giancarlo [Giametti, his partner] is surely my closest adviser. I have learnt to believe more and more in beauty.
How physically fit are you?
Do I exercise or follow a strict diet? Both. The doctor says I am very fit.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Talent, because without it, ambition cannot go forward much.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
How politically committed are you?
Not at all, I don’t believe in politicians.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I have no idea.
Do you have more than one home?
Yes. I love my home just outside Paris. I feel so comfortable there in the country with my dogs.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Very little – more in a spiritual way than material.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
In what place are you happiest?
Same as above. At my house in France, in the country with my dogs.
What ambitions do you still have?
Health and peace.
What drives you on?
Curiosity. I am interested in what people do, think, suggest. I do not follow them all the time, but this opens my taste and my knowledge.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Everything related to my work.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
I always find things fun and interesting so there have been no real disappointments.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
I was a dreamer. I was ambitious, courageous and free. Giancarlo and I were working a lot but it was fun! Unfortunately, the bigger your company becomes the less free you are. Running a large company means giving up a lot of fun.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
Do not even mention this.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Very much so.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Nine, because if not I would be hypocritical.
“Valentino: Master of Couture”, runs until March 3 at Somerset House, London