PARIS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Alessandra Facchinetti debuted in what is arguably the toughest job in fashion on Thursday presenting her first collection for Valentino since the maestro couturier retired in January after 45 years.
And, perhaps wisely, the 35-year-old former Gucci designer did not stray far from the path that made Valentino the red-carpet favourite for generations of glamorous women from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Julia Roberts.
Ruffles, bows and flaming red dresses -- the signature touches Valentino made his own over decades -- all made their appearance, together with modern twists of volume skirts and sleek black suiting.
Held on an all-white runway at the Palais de Chaillot near the Eiffel Tower, Facchinetti also stayed true to Valentino's legendary love of spectacle, although overall opted for a more muted palette of blacks, navy and beige.
Actress Winona Ryder, a front row guest, said the show was "absolutely beautiful". Notably also on the front row, Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino Garavani's long-time business partner, gave his blessing, and noted its "elegance, quality and lightness".
Succeeding Valentino is a daunting task because of the designer's iconic status and the appointment is seen as a test during a period when many fashion houses are burning through designers in only a clutch of seasons.
"I hope it went well. Let's see tomorrow," Facchinetti said backstage after the show, surrounded by television cameras.
"The DNA of the house will never change, only the point of view will change and that will allow us to do new things."
The difficulties of taking over from a storied designer have been resonant this season.
Gianfranco Ferre, whose eponymous creator died suddenly last year, presented an uneven collection in Milan last week after the designer assigned to take over quit a month before the shows because of "creative differences" with management.
At Valentino, the eponymous designer's retirement coincided with the $3.8 billion buyout of Valentino Fashion Group, owner also of Hugo Boss, by private equity fund Permira.
In a sign of the new owner's trust in Facchinetti's commercial as well as creative talents, Group Chief Executive Stefano Sassi, speaking after the show, said he will open 8 or 10 new stores a year, from 60 now, for the next few years.
Two stores will open in Beijing this year as it targets the booming market there for luxury goods. Sassi also has plans for a Valentino line of watches.
Another female designer, also wowed the critics on Thursday while showing her business acumen.
With a collection that looked aimed at another growing clientele for luxury fashion, wealthy Russians, Stella McCartney kept colours subdued but fabrics luxurious for fall 2008.
Boiled wool and felts played starring roles, moulded into voluminous winter coats with wooden belts or sculptured into sinuous lines to create a revealing minidress. "There's a lot of organic stuff in the collection, but I think you know the message for me has always been there. We don't try to throw it in people's faces, we just try to speak calmly, try to educate people a bit," she told Reuters TV. (Editing by Mary Gabriel)