Rudolph Valentino – Style Icon

NAME: Rudolph Valentino
BIRTH DATE: May 06, 1895
DEATH DATE: August 23, 1926
PLACE OF BIRTH: Castellaneta, Italy
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City, New York
ORIGINALLY: Rodolfo Pietro Filiberto Raffaello Guglielmi

BEST KNOWN FOR: Rudolf Valentino was an Italian-born American film actor who was idolized as the “Great Lover” of the 1920s.

Rudolph Valentino (May 6, 1895 – August 23, 1926) was an Italian actor, and early pop icon. A sex symbol of the 1920s, Valentino was known as the “Latin Lover”. He starred in several well-known silent films including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle and Son of the Sheik. He had applied for American citizenship shortly before his death.

His sudden death at age 31 caused mass hysteria among his female fans, propelling him into icon status. Though his films are not as well known today, his name is still widely known.

After his death many of his films were reissued to help pay his estate expenses. Many were reissued well into the 1930s, long after the demise of silent film. Several books were written including one by Rambova. Several songs, including “There’s a New Star in Heaven Tonight” and one by his first wife Jean Acker, entitled “We will meet at the end of the trail”, became best sellers. A photomontage print showed Valentino arriving in Heaven and being greeted by Enrico Caruso.

Over the years, a “woman in black” carrying a red rose has come to mourn at Valentino’s grave, usually on the anniversary of his death. Several myths surround the woman, though it seems the first woman in black was actually a publicity stunt cooked up by press agent Russel Birdwell in 1928. Several copycats have followed over the years.

Valentino’s hometown of Castellaneta, Italy has created several services in his honor. A Museo Rodolfo Valentino was opened in his childhood home. A Fondazione Rodolfo Valentino was created to promote his life and his work. In 2009 a film school was also opened in his hometown, “Centro Studi Cine Club Rodolfo Valentino Castellaneta.” At the centennial of his birth several events were held in his honor. From 1972 to 2006 an Italian acting award, “The Rudolph Valentino Award”, was handed out every year. Several actors from all over the world received this award including Leonardo DiCaprio and Elizabeth Taylor.
In 2006, the Italians planned a one-off film festival to celebrate the opening of the Museo Rodolfo Valentino. In May 2010, the American Society held The Rudolph Valentino Film Festival in Los Angeles, California.

Why He’s A Style Icon

Born in 1895 in Castellanata, Italy, Rudolph Valentino arrived at Ellis Island at the age of 18 in 1913. By 1921, following a lead role as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik, Valentino had achieved superstardom. His exotic, Mediterranean look was the polar opposite of the fair complexioned, blue-eyed, all-American image that dominated Hollywood at the time, and Valentino, who oozed sensuality and Italian sophistication, quickly became known as the “Latin Lover.” In addition to his smoldering, handsome looks, it’s undeniable that the star’s incredibly fashion-forward wardrobe was instrumental in cementing his status as a sex symbol.

In fact, Valentino’s avant-garde sense of style effectively turned middle-class American dressing on its head, and at least four major fashion trends can be credited to this style innovator. Following the success of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, gaucho pants were introduced to American men, who previously viewed baggy clothing as effeminate.

The pop icon also had a hand in removing the stigma associated with wristwatches. When they were first introduced, watches were perceived as a feminine accessory by American males due to their resemblance to bracelets. Finally, after the debut of The Sheik, Valentino’s perfectly slicked-back hair was so copied that men who wore their hair in this manner were known as Vaselinos and guys who were players were referred to as being “Sheiks.” When Valentino died at age 31 in 1926, some 100,000 people swarmed the streets of New York, leading to mass hysteria among female fans and rioting as the public swarmed the funeral home.

Dress The Valentino Way

Never photographed looking sub-par, Rudolph Valentino’s Italian heritage was evident in his knack for always being the most elegantly dressed man in the room. A gentleman through and through, when his wardrobe was auctioned off following his death, rumor has it that it included some 50-odd suits. From business suits to lounge suits, Palm Beach suits, formal dress suits, and even a gray corduroy hunting suit, Valentino had a suit for every occasion. In order to cop this legend’s look, you’ll, therefore, need at least one fits-like-a-glove tailored suit in your closet.

When he wasn’t spotted in a suit, Valentino favored either tailored slacks or gauchos and white vests. In his downtime, ever a glamorous Italian, Valentino kicked back in sumptuous dressing gowns, including one with a paisley pattern that was lined with white fur. In fact, this celluloid seducer’s love of luxury so completely pervaded his style that all of his handkerchiefs were personalized, his drawers were silk, his rings and cuff links were set with precious or semi-precious stones, and his pocket watches and cigarette cases inlaid with diamonds.

The lesson to be learned here is to not be afraid of incorporating unusual elements into your wardrobe. Finally, to really nail Valentino’s look, never go anywhere without a hat. For a tasteful modern spin on Valentino’s dapper Italian style, try this warm-weather, Mediterranean-resort-appropriate white blazer from Zara and slick your hair back or part it cleanly to one side.


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