Sunday, May 10, 2009


When I first saw the title of this movie, I found it to be a bit ambiguous. I thought, “Why is Valentino the last emperor?” Then I saw the trailer and became immediately intrigued. The film was released in Europe during the fall of last year, and released here in New York this passed March at the Film Forum and at the Lincoln Plaza. Through out March and April, the movie was pretty much sold out. In fact, it wasn't up until this May that evening tickets on the weekends became available at the box office for purchase at the actual time one would intend on seeing the flick. Yet even now, you'll still see a ticket holder line forming, which means you should get there at least half an hour prior to opening credits.

When the movie was first released, Valentino the fashion icon, hadn't approved many of the scenes in the film. However since the very beginning, first time director and producer of the documentary Matt Tyrnauer, had already been granted the final cut of the movie by Valentino himself and Giancarlo Giammetti, (Valentino’s 50-year business partner and companion). The 75-year-old fashion designer is known to be a master of preserving his image as a luxurious brand and fashion legend.

Among some of the celebrity posse he’s dressed are Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman, and Madonna, just to name a few. And so when Valentino saw the film, he realized that Tyrnauer might have captured him in a compromising light that didn't necessarily fit the public representation that he’d built for himself for the past 45 years of his career. In an interview that Valentino gave Charlie Rose during the release of the film he said, “Ive tried to figure out as I’ve seen the film many times if my character is really like this…” Valentino appears explosive and impossible to please at times in the documentary. However, taken in full context of the film, he is no different than any other fashion designer working around the clock maniacally--under extreme pressure to uphold a successful fashion empire, on top of delivering yet another genius act during yet another fashion week.

Valentino’s 45th year fashion show celebration was followed by THE commemoration party at Il Coloseo, (which by the way Rome’s Mayor, Walter Veltroni almost lost his job in approving, and just for this scene you should really see the movie for it is spec-ta-cu-lar). Valentino’s finale was highly emotional for all those who were present. The collection was emblematic of the designer's essence and his mastermind that proves to be neither topped nor irreplaceable. As Karl Lagerfeld whispered to Mr. Valentino after the show, “Now that’s the way it should be done! Compared to us everyone makes rags!” And this became even more apparent when the collection made by his successor Alessandra Facchinetti who was fired after the Fashion House's Show At The Paris Fashion Week in 2008, fell flat and unprofitable. She was since replaced by their accessory designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, whose first collection also appeared oversimplified compared to the stamp of the Valentino look. Currently the fashion house faces the dilemma of either trying to duplicate the fashion legend’s designs, or reinventing the brand itself. The latter seems to be the chosen answer but with the hope that the transition will finally show to be a successful in the next years to come.

Originally the film was intended to document the billion-dollar -fashion-empire in action, as well as to encapsulate the creative process of a haute couture artist—a last of the Mohicans whose name was still very much attached to everything he created. He is The Last Emperor on the grounds that the empire he ran bares his name, unlike a Karl Lagerfeld for instance, coupled with the fact that the fashion icon belongs to a dying breed. A breed that is so rare nowadays in view of the actuality that everything single haute couture piece that came out of the runway, which Giammetti usually erected for him, was purely handmade. He studied fashion design in France during the 40’s, under coveted couturiers in possession of priceless skills but who have by now become extinct.

As Director, Tyrnauer explained to Charlie Rose, “The movie is emblematic of the dismantling, the disintegration of the old order of fashion that is still based on passion and creativity, not corporations and money. They started with nothing and built an empire.” The director/producer is referring to the long-winded and hostile takeover of the fashion group Valentino by the private equity group Permira in 2007. Although Tyrnauer’s had no clue that he would end up documenting Valentino’s farewell to the fashion world as a designer, nonetheless, the movie is filled with intensity and tension because the audience does get to witness the action-packed escalation to a historical event, but one that is very much of a private affair as well for the couturier.

And action packed the movie is, it is filled with beautiful images, humor, humanity, but mostly, what Tyrnauer would like his audience to acknowledge above all else, is the love story between Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti. He tells Rose, “…make no mistake about it, this movie is about a love story, not glamour or the rich and famous. These two have a psychic bond which goes far beyond finishing each other’s sentence.” The couple of 50 years, to this day still try to impress each other. Even though they often take cheap shots at each other in the film, and in certain arguments they almost seemed to enjoy their usual dance of taunting one another, in spite of that somehow, what is most visible between the two is the silent love so palpable that we can see quite clearly how they both truly live for one another.

Giammetti, who met Valentino when he was only 20 and who has now just turned 70, divulged to Rose, “I do think that there is competition within all types of relationships; I mean I am in front of a genius, at least I have to try to present something genius too. Of course we want the other to be proud.” When asked by Rose, as asked the same question in the movie, “what does it feel like to be second?” Giammetti repeated his answer as is in the film, “happiness” and then further elaborated, “Yes I dedicated my life to this work, but I never felt second. Confucius said if two men ride the same horse one has to ride in the back, and for me this is normal, I never asked where’s my spotlight.”

The business partners/couple is often compared to Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. However, the main difference between the two teams according to Tyrnauer, who's spent the last two years following them around is that Giammetti solely protects Valentino while allowing him to succeed and creatively axpand to his fullest potential, where as Berge seemed to be much more distracted and perhaps did not always look out for YSL's best interest. This is why the producer/director, emphasizes how "their partnership is one to be studied and admired, I think we could all learn from their example." Perhaps this is why the two still look incredibly young for their age; all'amore, fa il cuore andare più velocemente, anche dopo 50 anni insieme (to love, it makes the heart beat faster, even after 50 years of staying together). When Rose asked Velentino if it is the water in Italy that allows them to look so young, Valentino answered, "It is not the water, it is what is in our chest,"while pointing towards his heart.

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