Valentino, 72, his business partner, and the secret that is a secret no more

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The Independent Online

It's no surprise that of all the great gay fashion designers to have declared their sexual preference in recent years, including Versace, Tom Ford, Dolce and Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, Valentino should be the last to come out.

It's no surprise that of all the great gay fashion designers to have declared their sexual preference in recent years, including Versace, Tom Ford, Dolce and Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, Valentino should be the last to come out.

The "secret that is not a secret", as Valentino's business partner Giancarlo Giammetti puts it, is splashed across an article on the multimillionaire Italian designer in the August issue of Vanity Fair .

It's no surprise he's late because being out on the leading edge has never been the style of the designer who burst on to the fashion scene in 1959 and quickly established himself as the favourite of the ladies who lunch.

Mr Giammetti, who has run the business side of Valentino's fashion house for 40 years, said: "Ours was not a story of money or fashion. It was a story of love. There has never been an article about us in this sense. I think the world has changed a lot, and that once it would have been embarrassing to read but it's not any more."

Valentino said: "Giancarlo and I understand each other, but his character is the opposite of mine. There are only three things that I know how to do: make a dress, decorate a house and receive guests ..."

According to Mr Giammetti, the two men were lovers for 12 years. "Now it's a fraternal love," he says, "a relationship with nothing sexual in it. Yet a great love remains, ancient, surviving."

Valentino, who turned 72 in May, is one of fashion's survivors. Through every vicissitude he has clung on to his clientele of super-rich socialites.

Born Valentino Garavani in Voghera, south of Milan, he was interested in fashion from his youth. At the age of 17 he went to study fashion in France; 10 years later, after five years at the salon of Guy Laroche, he struck out on his own, setting up in an atelier in the Via Condotti in central Rome.

That was in 1959: with film directors such as Fellini, Visconti and Antonioni in full swing, Hollywood-on-the-Tiber was the place to be seen and the area was thick with celebrities. When Elizabeth Taylor, in town to film Spartacus , walked into his studio, it was the start of a career and a friendship that has endured ever since.

Valentino has always pursuedthe one thing wealthy women crave most: elegance. More recent fans include Julia Roberts (who wore Valentino to the 2002 Oscars), Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey.

Valentino's outing came as he showed a collection at Paris's couture week. "Only a confident woman could carry off these ultra-luxurious ensembles that screamed wealth," was a typical verdict.

Despite coming clean about their sexuality, Valentino and Mr Giammetti remain somewhat prudish in their views. Bruce Hoeksema, Valentino's assistant for the past 15 years, said: "When Giancarlo sees two [men] kissing in a restaurant he says, 'Disgusting'. If he sees two holding hands on the street, 'Queers'."

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