Saturday 20 November 2010

To sequin or not to sequin: that is the question.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

is a fascinating look inside the legendary fashion designer’s final year before retirement.

Matt Tyrnauer lifts the curtain on Valentino’s gorgeous, frantic and fragile universe.

It takes you behind the scenes of haute couture and also gives a glimpse into three of his six beautiful homes.

I love beauty. Is not my fault.

I love dresses,

but I’ve always thought that to spend $50,000 on a single dress was unjustifiably extravagant.

After seeing the movie, I re-accessed my thinking and thought that I’d buy  just one!

{It’s not a dilemma I am confronting.}

A few movie tidbits:

* Valentino travels with an entourage of six pugs in harnesses that allow them to be picked up like purses.

* The designer, 75 at the time of filming, loves to ski.

* No other designer has designed for his/her own line for 45 years.

* Giancarlo thinks Valentino is too tanned.

* He and his partner of 45 years, while both Italian, speak to each other in French.

* Head seamstress is a stressful, demanding job.

* Models stand in a room wearing nothing but a g-string while a crowd around them drape their frames in cloth.

* When Valentino throws a party, Gwenyth Paltrow, Elton John, Joan Collins, Liz Hurley & Michael Cain show up.

* Not struggling for cash, Valentino has six mansions, a private jet, a yacht and … a butler for the pugs!

* A Valentino haute couture dresses is made with hand stitched detail.

* The clothes move beautifully.

    The Atelier in Rome

    Where his white-coated seamstresses shape the clothes in their care, worrying over the placement of a pleat or sewing a constellation of sequins across the bodice of an evening dress. Everything here is hand-stitched.

    Sewing machines were ordered at one point in the fashion house’s history, we’re told, but nobody ever used them. Valentino designs but these women perfect – with a purity of intent that went out of style long ago in the rest of their industry.

    The drama of couture sewing workrooms is wonderfully captured.

    The head seamstress goes into her own tempest when a gorgeous cocoa-colored evening gown seems to have what she considers to be a poorly-sewn bust. With ripper and needle, she goes to work herself, saying it is a whole day’s work, and when others try to interfere, she storms off with cocoa chiffon trailing and catching behind her.

    Valentino throws one real hizzy fit — it’s over the hair of the models, which the hair-dresser wants to make into a huge frizzy bush, while V. wants severe buns. He doesn’t become violent. He just exits, crying no-no-no-no!

    The great peacemaker is Valentino’s partner, Giametti.

    The Lovers

    The underlying love story between Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti

    is an unexpected revelation and shows the honesty of the film.

    They lovingly bicker over dresses, fashion-show sets, and which café they first met at.

    Valentino and Giancarlo met in Rome in 1960 when they were both in their twenties. They quickly went from friends to lovers, and it was decided that Giancarlo would run the business side of the company, while Valentino would stick to the designing. One of the most romantic aspects of their partnership? If you added up the days apart since they first met, it would only equal two months.

    No one understands Valentino like Giancarlo, and when he was asked “what its like living in the shadow of such an influential man?” His response was simply, “happiness.”

    Rome: la dolce vita (1959-1962)

    In 1959 Valentino left Paris and moved back to Italy with his lover, French socialite Gerald Nanty and opened a fashion house in Rome on the posh Via Condotti with the backing of his father and an associate of his. More than an atelier, the premises resembled a real “maison de couture”, being it very much on the line of what Valentino had seen in Paris: everything was very grand and models flew in from Paris for his first show. Valentino became known for his red dresses, in the bright shade that became known in the fashion industry as “Valentino red”.

    On 31 July 1960 Valentino met Giancarlo Giammetti at the Café de Paris on the Via Veneto in Rome. One of three children, Giammetti was in his second year of architecture school, living at home with his parents in the haut bourgeois Parioli section of Northern Rome. That day Giammetti gave Valentino a lift home in his little Fiat and a friendship as well as a long-lasting partnership started. The day after, Giammetti was to leave for Capri for vacation and by coincidence Valentino was also going there so they met again in the island 10 days later. Giammetti would shortly after abandon the University to become Valentino’s business partner. When Giammetti arrived, the business situation of Valentino’s atelier was in fact not brilliant: in one year he had spent so much money that his father’s associate pulled out of the business, and had to fight against bankruptcy. Giammetti’s entrepreneurial genius will prove fundamental to the worldwide expansion and success of the House, with him Valentino was able to focus on the creative aspect of design leaving all business intricacies to his partner. Valentino already had a passion for luxury and would spend too much money on expensive fabrics never thinking about the financial aspects of his fashion business.

    Valentino and Giancarlo are the kings of high living.

    Every other designer looks and says, ‘How do they live the way they do?’ I don’t think they made the money that Valentino and Giancarlo did, because Giancarlo knows how to make money. If they did, they didn’t spend the money like Valentino. No other designer ever did. When the terrorism first started in Rome – the period when the Red Brigades were kidnapping people – Valentino was riding around in a bulletproof Mercedes. And do you know what color the Mercedes was? Red. My God, I thought, you must want to get blown up. John Fairchild

    The Legendary Couturier

    The dresses are presented in depth (esp. a white one & a filmy red one) are floor-length or just a tiny bit longer.  The red one offended him because it was thin enough that even with two layers of material, the model’s legs could be seen in outline. Another one, sent back for redesign, was just short enough that the model kicked it up a bit when she walked, which revealed her ankles.

    “There is nothing so disgusting as seeing a woman’s ankles revealed when she walks!” he raged. Nor was he tolerant at the top end. A socialite is wearing a flatter-fronted model’s version of a low-cut gown. “Darling, your boobs are falling out,” he remarks critically.

    He likes asymmetry, surprise, even near-incompletion, as in the famous white dress, columnar, impossibly pleated in a mille tiny creases which are interspersed with ruffles that start tiny at the top and become wide at the bottom, cascading scallops that ripple like water when the model moves. There was much discussion of whether silver sequins should be added to the ruffles. They were, in an edging that was a little tricky since one ruffle tended to catch on another. But that was not so controversial as Valentino’s decision to leave two of the ruffles off. Just spaces where they would have been. The less sophisticated of the critics thought it looked like an omission, a deficiency.

    Valentino thought it was playful, a way of not going “over the top.”

    Finally, flouncing away in a fit of resentment, he allowed the ruffles to be added.

    But they weren’t HIS fault!

    Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie, and Molly

    Valentino says: “I don’t care much about the collection. My dogs are much more important!”

    Valentino after a frustrating day at the office, complete with six pugs getting caught up in evening dresses.

    He later cleans the dogs’ teeth.

    The supporting stars of The Last Emperor are the legendary designer Valentino’s six pugs

    ~ Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie, and Molly.

    Valentino takes his pug babies with him everywhere.

    They fly on private jets and have a dog butler.

    Valentino adores dogs to the point that he once named a second line of clothing after his late pug Oliver. Today Valentino owns six pugs: the mother, Molly; her sons, Milton and Monty; and her daughters, Margot, Maude and Maggie. When traveling on his 14-seat Challenger jet, three cars are needed to move Valentino and his entourage to the airport: one to move Valentino and Giammetti, another for the luggage and the staff and a third to transport five of six Valentino’s pugs as one of them, Maude, always travels with Valentino.

    After take-off Maude is released by a butler. She runs forward and jumps up on Valentino’s lap, but before she can settle in, another staff member appears with a light-blue linen cloth, which he unfurls and placed under the dog to minimize the effects of shedding. At lunchtime Maude is returned to her fellow pugs. And there’s somebody in charge of brushing the pugs teeth.

    The movie inspired the Valentino The Last Emperor‘s Most Fashionable Pug contest held in New York, and was judged by Mr. Valentino himself! Many runway-ready pugs were entered the contest.

    Roma Celebrations

    The two men blew a quarter of a million euros on a spectacular festival event in Rome. With a red-washed Coliseum in the background, and the most fabulous dresses on mannequins suspended in rows on the walls of an enormous hall, the evening sky was occupied by dancers suspended in the sky, dresses twice as long as they were, trailing beneath them as they swam back and forth, scattering roses while rockets bloomed through the sky behind them and Callas’ voice filled the twilight with arias. The finale was a hot air balloon, ascending with a woman in white floating underneath. As Valentino said, it was “unrepeatable!”

    Valentino stopped at the beginning of festivities just long enough to give Gianini a gift: a very thin bangle of diamonds which Gianini was careful to expose to the camera whenever it looked for him. The camera also caught the glitter of both partner’s eyes, flooded with love and gratitude for each other. It was theatre — no, it was opera.

    Valentino’s Swansong in Rome has more details on the three day extravaganza.

    The fashion finale in Paris ~ Valentino says ‘adieu’ after 45 year career

    A blaze of emotions, elegance, fashion, celebrities (such as Liucy Liu, Uma Thurman and Claudia Chiffer)

    for the finale a blaze of red ~ Valentino’s Haute Couture fashion show,

    with which the famous designer said goodbye to fashion.

    Valentino kept his devoted fans waiting until the very end of his last-ever haute couture show for a glimpse of his signature red. Just when it appeared to be all over, images of a row of models in Valentino red were projected onto the back walls for the entire length of the runway and all the show’s 30 models came out wearing identical red gowns.

    The 74 dresses that was shown on the catwalk celebrated, each one, the life and the story of the maison and his founder from the Sixties up to the present.

    Naturally, the lead-up  to the Haute Couture S/S 2008 show wasn’t without its dramatic moment. When Valentino sets eyes on the stage set, just hours before the impending fashion show, he responds unhappily to Giammetti:

    “The sand dunes look like two tits”

    An emotional Valentino appeared for his lap of honour,

    blowing kisses to the crowd as they gave him a standing ovation.

    Val’s gals, as his loyal customers are known, turned out in force for the show – the most glittering event on the calendar in couture week, held in a giant marquee in the grounds of Paris’ Rodin Museum. Banks of photographers jostled round the entrance to snap the late arrivals – not just celebrities, but dozens of ultra-elegant unknowns, many fellow Italians, wearing Valentino in homage to their favourite designer.

    Among the 800 guests who packed the show were fellow couturiers Miuccia Prada and Emanuel Ungaro, former top models Eva Herzigova, Claudia Schiffer and Nadia Auermann, a spattering of minor European royalty and Farah Dibah, the widow of the last Shah of Iran.

    The Haute Couture S/S 2008 collection

    Valentino’s Dazzling Chateau Party Closes Couture

    At the Chateau de Wideville, Valentino’s Home Near Paris

    In a spectacular sendoff to Paris couture week, Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti hosted a few hundred bold-faced names, from social powerhouses like Bethy Lagardere, Susan Gutfreund, Lee Radziwill and Georgina Brandolini to young starlets like Jessica Alba and Leighton Meester, all agog at the setting.

    As Gwyneth Paltrow entertained the kiddies, Giammetti rushed to embrace Jane Fonda, who exclaimed that she couldn’t wear some of her treasured Valentinos anymore “because I’m too strong,” she said, doing a mock bicep flex.

    As the dance floor filled up and the buffet tables were spread with tiramisu, Garavani, trailed by a butler, wandered around cradling one of his precious pugs.

    “It’s nicer than my barn,” sighed Elizabeth Hurley Wednesday night after touring the new Valentino Garavani Archives, housed in one of the more humble – yet still impressive – outbuildings of the retired couturier’s sprawling Wideville estate. “Now I must go look at the gardens.”

    “One has to take time to smell the roses,” agreed Claire Danes, in a flutter of couture ruffles, referring to one of Wideville’s many marvels: an estimated one million blooms nestled amidst sculptured topiaries.

    “I want to see the house more than anything,” Marc Jacobs said lustily about the eight-bedroom, Louis XIII-style chateau, which was lit up in fuchsia as guests wound their way through verdant lawns, over the moat and towards a clear tent set up for a buffet supper and, later, dance party, with none other than DJ Jesus – as in model and off-and-on Madonna squeeze Jesus Luz – spinning twisted electro.

    “Who needs a fashion show? Everybody’s here,” quipped Vogue’s Anna Wintour, leading Blake Lively on a tour of Garavani’s new private museum, its first exhibition showcasing thousands of original sketches.

    Chateau de Wideville

    His castle on 120 acres in Davron, about 30 minutes outside Paris was bought in 1998 and was meticulously restored by the late Henri Samuel, the dean of French interior design. The castle had been previously decorated by the late Renzo Mongiardino, the greatest of the Italian decorators, who also worked on Valentino’s Roman villa and Giammetti’s Tuscan house. Built circa 1600, the castle was once the home of Claude de Bullion, the finance minister for Louis XIII, who slept at Wideville, according to a plaque in the castle, on January 22, 1634. During the reign of Louis XIV, Madame de la Valliere, one of his mistresses, lived at Wideville. Her bedroom, a mirrored-walled chapel with a 30-foot (9.1 m)-high ceiling, was converted into a bathroom.

    Homes around the globe

    Valentino owns marvelous villas and apartments around the world, all boasting an extensive array of art pieces. These are: Palazzo Mignanelli near the Spanish steps in Rome and a villa on the Via Appia Antica, a major historical landmark of Rome, Chalet Gifferhorn in Gstaad, Switzerland.

    Valentino has an apartment near the Frick Museum overlooking Central Park, New York and one of the largest private houses in London’s Holland Park, a 19th-century mansion whose centerpiece is the grand salon, which features five late Picassos. The breakfast room is lined with 200 Meissen plates, and the small salon has two Basquiats and a painting by Damien Hirst. His villa on the cliffs of Capri has recently been sold.

    Valentino also spends much time on T. M. Blue One, his hundred-and-fifty-two-foot long yacht boasting a full-time staff of eleven, and a selection of art ranging from Picassos to Andy Warhol. He frequently visits Giancarlo Giammetti’s residences: the penthouses in Via Condotti in Rome and on the Quai D’Orsay in Paris, or the country estate in Cetona, Tuscany.

    A Perfect Life: Around the World with Valentino a 30 minute DVD takes us inside Valentino’s homes around the world, revealing the unique lifestyle he’s created for himself and the amount of work it takes to maintain it. We follow Michael Kelly, Valentino’s Irish majordomo, as he prepares a lavish party at Chateau Wideville, Valentino’s estate outside of Paris. In the style of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, we go back and forth between upstairs, where Valentino entertains his guests, and downstairs, where Michael Kelly directs the army of waiters, chefs and maids. In a second chapter, we fly on the private aircraft with Valentino and his entourage to Gstaad for a vacation at the glamorous ski resort. Lastly, we discover Valentino’s residence on Fifth Avenue, as Valentino visits New York for the Costume Institute Benefit Gala.

    “The luxe, rara avis world of the Italian couturier and fashion designer…

    fused with wit and self-deprecating humor. With great style and editing, the film captures the deep-seated relationship of two men, one a business genius and one a dressmaker who swept through the sixties on the hems of his delicate, feminine suits and fine evening dresses, favorites of Jackie O and Elizabeth Taylor.

    (Tyrnauer) took a difficult subject – a fashion brand and its founders

    – and told the story of how fashion as art has to bend to the winds of commerce and modernity.”
    – André Leon Talley, Vogue

    Humanizing an Icon: “Valentino: The Last Emperor”

    The film covers the run-up to Valentino’s retirement mid-way through 2007. Tyrnauer, a writer for Vanity Fair, spent the best part of two years following him and Giammetti with his camera, so we float around with them in the scented bubble that constitutes their world.

    Interview with  Director, Matt Tyrnauer for indieWIRE

    how did the idea for this film came about?

    I have been looking for a willing subject for a film for years. When I met Valentino, having been sent to interview him for a Vanity Fair feature, I saw a character who was a strong candidate for the big screen. He’s an icon, and a creative genius, and a larger-than-life figure who lives a kind of bubble life—he exists in a special world, where perfect living is the name of the game and he does it very well indeed. When in Rome, I also was surprised to find TWO people: Valentino and his partner in business (at, at one time, in life) Giancarlo Giammetti. They have a relationship unlike any I have ever seen before. It’s unique. People frequently say, Valentino and Giancarlo, it’s like a marriage. Well, I’d say it’s MORE than a marriage. It’s a supernatural bond that has lasted for 50 years. They are part of the same person, really. So close, and so inter-dependent, I wanted to try to capture that friendship on film. That is what the movie is really about: Fashion is the backdrop. It’s a kind of relationship movie, a love story, if you will.

    elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.

    Anyone who makes a direct cinema move is indebted to the Maysles brothers. I admire their movies very much, and, especially “Grey Gardens.” I have a wonderful, brilliant friend and editor at Vanity Fair, Wayne Lawson, who has for years helped me make stories clear and clean, and who believes in letting the story tell itself. Letting people talk is a great way to get a story across, and then taking away the excess to pare it down. Wayne once mentioned that he thought that “Grey Gardens” was the model for this kind of story telling, and I agree with him. The Maysles let Big and Little Edie tell their story in the most elegant way. Graydon Carter, another amazing mentor, used to tell me “just let them talk” before going to report a story. Great advice.

    what were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

    The stars of this movie are major figures and Valentino commands star treatment, and deserves it. He’s an icon. As can be seen in the movie things did not always go smoothly on the set, and I included some of the cyclone-force tantrums on screen. It makes Valentino more human. He is a hand full, and there was no reason to hide this, because it’s part of the process and it’s part of who he is. He is a very nice man, and a genius at his art. But he is also a perfectionist and he has the disposition of a – as he would say – the toro, the bull, his star sign. So, you get these heated moments. He and Giancarlo also fight, like all great partners. We have some prime examples of that as well on film. So, they were a challenge to work with and it took a lot of time and work to get to where we wanted to go.

    how was the film financed?  Private equity. We were very lucky to have great financiers.

    Matt Tyrnauer is a New York-based writer and filmmaker. He has worked for Spy magazine and The New York Observer, and is currently Special Correspondent of Vanity Fair. His book Una Grande Storia Italiana: Valentino Garavani was published by Taschen in 2007. Valentino: The Last Emperor (08) is his first feature documentary.

    {Images & sources: ~ eyescoop; your new fragrance; indieWire}


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    2 Responses to “To sequin or not to sequin: that is the question.”

    1. Ritournelle says:

      What a great read, thank you! Valentino is one of the last members of the jet-set with a touch of elegance and a huge talent. I miss his couture shows and I wonder what he thinks of the current state of the brand that bears his name (a partnership with Gap, really?!).

    2. Cate says:

      It’s great you enjoyed the read – Sometimes i wonder if there is too much text, so it is lovely to get your response. Valentino + Gap ~ a strange marriage!


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