“I love beauty, it’s not my fault…” so says Valentino Garavani in one of the early scenes in the film based on his life and career, “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” And this love of beauty is what makes this film such a pleasure to watch.
While watching this film recently, I couldn’t help to wonder why it took me so long (it was released in 2008). I was curious to see if this would be a commercial for Valentino’s couture house(with which he has little to do these days although not the case when this film was shot) or actually an intimate look the designer and his career as promised by Matt Tyrnauer, the film’s director. I was glad to see that it was the latter.
Tyrnauer filmed Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti for two years and amassed over 250 hours of footage. Tyrnauer’s film is not so much concerned with Valentino’s past. While he does show some career flashbacks and Valentino discusses how he became as a designers and who his early celebrity clients (Jackie O!) were, this film is about the present. One funny scene in particular takes us to Via Veneto in Rome, where Giammetti and Valentino disagree about their exact location of the café where they met on July 31, 1960. A wonderful La Dolce Vita film clip made me nostalgic for beauty of that era, even if I was not yet born. But back to the present: the festivities surrounding the designer’s forty-five years in the business – which included a lavish soiree and the opening of the exhibition at the Ara Pacis museum in Rome, both taking place in July 2007.
My favorite moments in the film (and there are a lot of these) are the ones that show the private, tender, human side of the designer. For example, his relationship with his couture de mains, or his seamstresses, who make every dress a work of art, while his drive for perfection may seem like tyranny, it is in fact a glimpse of a genius who demands the best (in a later scene the seamstresses are first to enter the exhibition marveling at their hard work now displayed on pedestals); but he also appears fragile-like in his conversations with Giammetti who controls, and has for 45 years, the business aspect of the Valentino couture house. I was also found charming Valentino’s relationship with other designers. The designer proudly takes Karl Lagerfeld on a tour of the exhibition and the two old friends walk arm in arm, reminisce about the good old days and then Lagerfeld says to Valentino, “compared to us, the rest are making rags.” Who needs modesty when you are the last emperor!?
Every man needs a great partner and this is made evident by the relationship between Valentino and Giammetti. I do not remember which reporter asked Giammetti how he felt about living in another’s man’s shadow to which he simply replied, “happiness.” But Giammeti is not exactly living in the shadow. It is clear that without Giammetti’s support and involvement (Giammetti is the house’s creative director and is responsible for the staging of the fashion shows) Valentino’s company may not have been what it is today. It is nice to observe how Giammetti steps back and allows Valentino to bask in the sunshine yet Valentino is well aware of the his presence and relies on him. When Valentino is presented with the Legion of Honor medal from the French government he does not forget to thank Giammetti. In fact, he does this with tears in his eyes and admiration in his voice. It is a touching moment as in the previous scene Giammetti tells us that Valentino will never tell you directly how much he appreciates you.
The film’s title “The Last Emperor” is in response to another major plot line in the film: the battle for the majority stake in the Valentino Fashion Group. Since 1998 Permira Advisors have had a stake in the company and in the film there is speculation that they may get more. There is also talk of Valentino retiring. While he denies his ascent from the throne in the film, it was shortly after the completion of the project that Valentino announced his retirement from the world of fashion. But no matter how said this is, it is understood by the viewer that this would be the unfortunate outcome all along. After all, why would the Emperor relinquish control of the Empire which he has built and watch mature over the course of 45 years to a group of investors?
There has been a proliferation of films about fashion in recent years which is nice considering how fashion-obsessed our culture is and getting a behind-the scenes look is a real treat as it is unlikely that many of us will ever come that close to such an experience. When the film first premiered there was much talk about Valentino’s ostentatious lifestyle but what would one expect from a man who has such great taste and has dedicated his personal and professional life to creating beauty all around him?
My other favorite sound bite from the film is when Valentino says “I know what women want- they want to be beautiful.” Yes, gracious Emperor, we do.
By the way, for anyone who REALLY loved the film, moss is selling a signed copy (by Valentino) for $125.