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Valentino once called up Emanuel Ungaro, practically in tears, upset that his age had been listed (erroneously?) in the press. While that exact number is a matter of contention, it is safe to say that he is the oldest of the couturiers still in charge of his own House.

But for Spring 2004, the King of Rome sent out a light, fluttering collection that was younger in spirit than any in recent memory. Graceful and sexy, he managed to balance youthful Úlan with timeless elegance.

"Light, light, light," Valentino said in program notes. "I want these clothes to make a woman feel as though she is wearing nothing at all."

  Ironically, it was the magical draping, sensuously veiling the silhouette, which struck at the heart of this collection. The clothes literally caressed the body, displaying with finesse the tailoring for which Valentino is so well known.

From the swirling gowns of silk mousseline blossoming in fuchsia, orange and poppy-red that made up the finale, or the sumptuous creation in turquoise modeled by Naomi, or even a set of lavender chiffon dresses, the eveningwear was stellar.

Elsewhere, a collection of prints - one especially luscious brocade was constructed of apple green and chartreuse on satin - were wrapped up in summertime motifs.

  Butterflies flew onto mini-boleros and corsets, while flowers sprouted on blouses and short dresses.

With 81 different pieces, the show was lengthy; but then again, Valentino is a consummate master with a lot left to stay.

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