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Painting L.A. Valentino Red

November 21, 2000|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN and BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Valentino painted the town red Friday with a party to celebrate his 40 years in fashion and to benefit the Children's Action Network.

There was as much of the designer's trademark red inside the tent atop the Pacific Design Center as outside on the red carpet. Dozens of custom-made red velvet banquettes surrounded a cube of stairs that glowed red and later served as the runway for a fashion show.

Old guard socialites Nan Kempner, Betsy Bloomingdale and Barbara Davis mingled with young Hollywood--Sofia Coppola and husband Spike Jonze, Kate Hudson, China Chow, Jolie Fisher and Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan.

Valentino outfitted many of his guests in gowns from his archives. By his estimate, "not some of the women, half of the women." Some wore red, others gold and then there was black, hardly basic when it comes to Valentino.

Minnie Driver said of her black sequined "mermaid dress" with a scalloped hem, "It's sort of grown up, but not in an old way, in an old-movie star way."

Jennifer Beals chose her black gown with a beaded serpent design that wound around the dress, because she was recently bitten by a rattlesnake outside of her home. "I saw it [the dress] and I said, 'If it doesn't fit, I'm dieting.' "

A few men came wearing Valentino, too. Actor Billy Zane said of his dapper tux, "It makes me feel like a spy."

Before dinner, a runway show featured top models of the moment Bridget Hall, Erin O'Connor and Naomi Campbell, who said of Valentino, "He makes you look very feminine, very womanly." Witness Charlize Theron. The actress was speechless when the designer came up to her, pushed the fabric of her black halter gown aside to expose even more of her plunging cleavage and said in a dulcet Italian tone, "Beautiful!"

With a view of the Hollywood Hills, 500 guests dined on risotto, lamb chops, pasta, grilled vegetables and more at an Italian buffet catered by the New York restaurant, Cipriani. Then came Italian ices, rich cakes and other treats that no one bent on fitting into a Valentino gown would dare eat.

Valentino wore a perfect tuxedo, while his staff, including his business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, were in pleat-front tuxedo shirts, unbuttoned at the neck for a Euro-casual look.

The event raised more than $250,000 from a silent auction of a Mercedes and fashion photographs by Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts and others, and a donation from Valentino.

"I'm very happy and I'm very excited," said Valentino of his L.A. visit. Still, he was a bit homesick for his new puppies. "I call twice a day for news about them."

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