Designer Carmen Marc Valvo has some advice for power couples when they’re stepping out:
“Be cognizant of what the other is wearing.”
That doesn’t mean matchy-matchy. But it does mean complementary.
Seated on a white sofa at Neiman Marcus Westchester moments before his trunk show is set to begin, he gestures toward a strapless magenta gown with an overlay of lace. It’s an example of the jewel-colored, richly textured eveningwear for which Valvo is known. But such sumptuousness is not just for ladies: The design has been transformed into a cummerbund and tie – part of a new menswear collection in the ever-expanding CMV brand – that could complete a tux and complement the woman who wears the gown. It’s the kind of look that Hilaria and Alec Baldwin or Susan and Robert Downey Jr. pull off so well. And it’s the kind of balance that even the designer has to remind himself to strike. For a recent event, he had selected a black and white blazer when he remembered to check with his date, Selenis Leyva of “Orange is the New Black,” to find out which of his designs she would be wearing. Fortunately, it was a black creation with white leather accents – black and white always being in style, he says – so the two paired beautifully.
For gay couples, pulling off the complementary power look might be harder, Valvo says. A lesbian couple might go the Ellen DeGeneres-Portia de Rossi route with one in a suit and the other in a dress – though Valvo recently did a wedding in which the two brides wore gowns. One thing he doesn’t want to see – two men in shorts and jackets.
Valvo’s recent trunk show at Neiman Marcus marks both his 25th anniversary in the business and a rare appearance in the county in which he grew up, the son of an anesthesiologist and a nurse.
“When I was a young boy, we actually had ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ in the house,” he says with a laugh. “It wasn’t the TV show, which is spelled differently.”
Poring over this classic medical text gave him insight into the female body. “This is especially important doing eveningwear – which I’m primarily known for – because you need to know where the hip is so the gown will flow and have grace.
“Plus,” he adds, “being Latin, I’ve always loved curves.”
That’s music to the ears of Neiman’s shoppers. “I have several of your designs,” one well-wisher says, putting a hand affectionately on his arm.
If his parents’ medical professions offered a window into form, a love of the arts gave him an appreciation for patterns in deep colors – midnight blue, purple, gold, red, teal, coral – and layered textures of silk, satin, brocade, mesh, embroidery, beads and pearls.
“A richness of textures is like a palette of colors,” he says.
After enrolling in the fine arts program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, he took himself off to Europe to soak up various cultures and languages. A car accident there served as a wake-up call as he came home to recuperate and, realizing he wanted to be a fashion designer, enrolled at Parsons The New School for Design in Manhattan – an unusual career choice. “There was no ‘Project Runway’ then,” he notes.
It was not long, however, before Paris came calling, and Valvo went off to work in the City of Light, first for Nina Ricci and then Christian Dior.
Today, Valvo’s company embraces foot, swim and eyewear. “It’s all about branding,” he says. “Eveningwear is a niche market. You can’t open a store with just eveningwear.”
The burgeoning brand keeps him on the road for trunk shows and fundraisers, especially for breast and ovarian cancer. So when you ask about his personal life, you’re not surprised to hear him say with a laugh, “I have no personal life.”
There is, though, a place in the Hamptons to which he escapes now and then for a weekend of gardening and cooking.
Otherwise, it’s a life of design by design. “I enjoy it.”
For more, visit neimanmarcus.com