Is Mario Valentino THE Valentino? You know, Valentino Valentino. Or is he a different Valentino? Is he maybe a rip-off Valentino? Or is he the Valentino from the catwalks? Also, what is this Valentino by Mario Valentino? If it’s Valentino Valentino, how come it’s so cheap?
These are legit questions, everyone.
Consumers are struggling to know the difference between Mario Valentino and Valentino Garavani. One of the reasons for this is that Valentino Garavani has become THE brand on par with Chanel, Dior, Gucci and Prada in terms of desirability, while Mario Valentino has become… forgotten. A catastrophe for a designer who reinvented the stiletto, pushed leather craftsmanship to new heights, worked with names such as Versace and Ferragamo, and actually started his business way before Valentino. The latter being the brand of the bag you’d want to own today.
Mario Valentino was born in Naples and took over the shoe business his father started building. Known already for their craftsmanship, the family-owned business had commissions from royalty, celebrities – even Jackie O’ was partial to a pair of Mario Valentinos. At the peak of the designer’s career, not only supermodels including Naomi and Verushka were wearing his stilettos, Helmut Newton was photographing his high-heeled shoes, bringing to us something we all now refer to as shoe porn. For Mario, it all started with a coral sandal concept that has landed his design the cover of Vogue, shared with a Cartier high jewellery piece. International fame followed which allowed the design house to explore connections between art and fashion. Besides, even the likes of Andy Warhol were keen on Mario Valentino leather goods. Andy’d look damn good in a pair of beautiful shoes as he’d walk through The Factory.
Mario passed away in 1991. In some way, so did the unique selling point of the design house. The business was left to the family but not much else is now known about the brand. The interest has come back ever so slightly about Mario Valentino as a lot of bags have started popping up with a Valentino logo, leaving consumers confused yet hopeful that they were buying a Valentino Garavani bag for a scandalously cheap price.
The aforementioned low-cost bags are something of a revival of the Mario Valentino brand. Some would argue that it is a poor attempt at banking on confusing consumers and leading them to purchase goods with a hope they are something the are not. A sad, sad state of affairs considering Mario Valentino is a genuine legend when it comes to leather craftsmanship and innovation.
But it’s not all bad news – keen-eyed vintage lovers may be able to find a Mario Valentino gem in vintage outlets. If you are not that lucky, don’t worry, the book photographed for this review is a celebration of the Mario Valentino brand, complete with artistic references, sketches, Helmut Newton photography and quotes from Mario himself.
For fashion lovers, fashion historians and fans of Mario Valentino this book is a must-have. It’s a biography, diary, and most importantly a well-researched bible of Mario’s work. It celebrates the rise, and allows us space to discover the fall for ourselves. When it comes to Mario Valentino, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Get your copy of Mario Valentino: A History of Fashion, Design and Art by Ornella Cirillo here.