What makes a great film? A great story.
The indie movie, Valentino: The Last Emperor, has been doing the rounds of the film festivals around the world. It is a fashion ‘docu-film’ following Valentino Garavani for the past 2 years, shooting 250 hours of footage. The film is directed by Matt Tyrnauer, a longtime Vanity Fair editor and writer, who handled the many layers of this great story with discreet efficacy.
The story is about the iconic career of one of fashion’s greatest masters, Valentino Garavani. It is also an incredible story of love between 2 men (Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giacometti) who together built a billion dollar fashion business from the ground up. Moreover, this is a true fashion film; it a rare inside look into the world of haute couture that has never been seen ‘up close and personal’ – from the arguing seamstresses to the 6 dogs laying sleepily in the atelier. It culminates with an extravagant 3 day event in Rome celebrating the house of Valentino’s 45th anniversary in fashion.
The movie starts with spot interviews of Valentino and how he started. As a child, Valentino was always fascinated with movie stars – Hedy Lamarr, Judy Garland, Jimmy Stewart. He wanted to be the designer to dress the biggest stars of Hollywood. The best one liner is when Valentino was asked what women want. Valentino, whose name is an international symbol of elegance, timelessness and beauty, says with certainty that he knows what women want.
“Women want to look beautiful.”
The movie captures truthfully the process of creating a beautiful garment. It starts with Valentino sketching an evening gown. The fabrics are draped over a model and the seamstresses scurrying about rushing to finish the garment for Valentino’s inspection, right to the runway. This creative process is dissected in the film, as the atelier went back and forth on the minute details of a white ruffled evening gown. After 4 or 5 alterations Valentino is ecstatic about the gown, then Giancarlo walks in and comments that it looks unfinished. Valentino, as expected of any creative genius, throws a mild tantrum. It is hard to imagine the real life of a fashion designer but this film understands and captures what fashion designers go through. And to think that Valentino has been doing this for more than 50 years (including his apprenticeship in Paris with Jean Desses and Guy Laroche), and still kept his ‘movie star’ cool – as proved by the many pictures of Valentino from the 60’s to present, is very impressive.
All throughout the film are scenes of a perfectly glamorous life. The locations were Valentino’s palatial homes in Paris, London, New York, Gstaad and aboard Valentino’s yacht. There were parties and gatherings with kings and queens, Hollywood celebrities, Italian political figureheads, aristocrats, journalists and fellow designers. Though all these were very impressive, they were only a backdrop to the compelling story of love between two men who met at a café in the Via Veneto in the 60’s. In the film are tender scenes of affection between Giancarlo and Valentino and pictures of when they first met. Giancarlo Giacometti, Valentino’s business partner and companion for 50 years who brings the business acumen to the table and is credited with building the Valentino brand and empire is the other star of the movie. This is a story of a bond that is perfectly complimentary. In the film, there were very touching moments like when they were walking in the park in the early morning, reminiscing in Via Veneto and when Valentino offers a tearful tribute to Giancarlo “who stayed by my side all these years” when Valentino was accepting France’s Legion of Honor award for contributions to art and culture.
Conflict is introduced in the film, as the house that Valentino and Giancarlo built is slowly taken over by a private equity firm, Permira. Since 2002, Valentino and Giacometti sold controlling shares to the Marzotti family, known as Valentino Fashion Group. However, in 2007, the Marzottis started to sell its controlling stake. Valentino who is used to freedom is defiant.
“The world of fashion is very different today. If there is a reason for Valentino to stop one day, it is because it is a world not made for him.”, Giacometti asserts.
Giacometti steps in and once again saves the day and initiates an idea of throwing the biggest fashion event ever to mark Valentino’s achievement and secure his place in the fashion firmament. It is a 3 day event in Rome for their 45th year, starting with Valentino’s summer couture collection. Following that is a retrospective of the designer’s work at the Ara Pacis Museum, a black-tie ball at Villa Borghese, an over-the -top gala bash at the Temple of Venus overlooking the Coliseum, complete with fireworks and flying models. Estimates of the total cost were around 20 million.
There were rumors of retirement, but it was not forthcoming until Permira has completely taken over and two months after the 45th anniversary celebration, Valentino retired. It is very fortunate that the film was able to document the dramatic closing act of Valentino’s celebrated career.
As someone who has personally interacted with the principals of this film, Valentino, Giancarlo Giacometti and their entourage, I almost left the screening room teary eyed. It is not only the triumphant but bittersweet end of a brilliant, masterful career but the start of a decline of an art form – haute couture. There are very few designer houses left carrying the torch for this art form and when one of the masters retire – we ask ourselves, what will happen to haute couture? There was a very poignant moment when Giancarlo Giacometti spoke about not having one sewing machine in the atelier, because everything was done by hand, as the picture segues to a shot of 6 seamstresses around a mannequin sewing on the bodice of one gown simultaneously.
Valentino: The Last Emperor was premiered for the press today, March 5, 2009 at the Magno Screening Room. It will be shown in select theaters for a 2 week engagement from March 18-31 at the Film Forum on West Houston Street with daily screenings. It is a must see for anyone involved in the business of fashion.
Don’t miss one of the best shots of the film – 6 pugs (Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie and Molly) seated in a line on a banquette of a private jet, travelling with Valentino.