Thursday, June 11, 2009

Valentino: The Last Emperor (Rhoades)

“Valentino” Dresses Up The Screen at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few years ago my wife and I had the privilege of attending Savannah College of Art & Design’s first student fashion show, the output of their fabulous fashion design department. No amateur affair, these designs were judged by none other than Miuccia Prada (Yes, the head designer of the brand that inspired the title in “The Devil Wears Prada”). Miu Miu (as Miuccia is known to her friends) looked as chic as a runway model herself.

How do you build a world-famous fashion brand like Prada or Gucci or Helmut Lang?

Well, you can see one case history in “Valentino: The Last Emperor” – the documentary about legendary designer Valentino and his longtime business and life partner Giancarlo Giammetti, who together built a huge fashion empire. This critically acclaimed film is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani, better known as simply Valentino, became interested in fashion while still in knickers in northern Italy. At 17, his family shipped him off to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris to study design. He went on to apprentice for a number of fashion houses (Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Jean Dresses, Guy Laroche).

In 1959, his family backed him in setting up his own shop in Rome. The following year he met Giancarlo Giammetti while sipping an aperitif at the Café de Paris on the Via Veneto. That chance encounter would lead to a business partnership as well as a personal one.

At the time Giammetti was a second year architecture student. When he joined Valentino’s atelier, the financial situation was dismal. All the backers had pulled and the company was facing bankruptcy. However, Giammetti's entrepreneurial genius helped turn it around, and his business acumen – combined with Valentino’s great designs – built the struggling company into an international brand.

“How would you define in one word … your choice to live in another man’s shadow?” Giammetti is asked at the beginning of this film. “Happiness,” he replies.

Valentino is the only designer in the world who’s managed to last 45 years. “I love beauty,” he says. “It’s not my fault. … women, they want to be beautiful.”

Valentino’s “breakthrough show” took place in Florence in 1962, a triumph that led to him dressing such socialites as Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, Babe Paley, Jayne Wrightman, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Farah Diba, Audrey Hepburn, and Marisa Berenson. As well as my friend Veruschka, the famed supermodel.

Although Veruschka wore hippie-like hand-me-downs around her Brooklyn three-story walk-up whenever I visited her, I once asked who had been her favorite designer?

“Ah, that’s easy,” she’d responded in her deep Prussian accent. “Valentino.”

Produced and directed by Matt Tyrnauer, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine,
“Valentino: the Last Emperor” follows the designer and his companion of 50 years as they flit around the world. “He lives as lavishly as his clients,” says Tyrnauer. “He shuts out all that is not beautiful.”

Granted unprecedented access, the filmmakers shot more than 250 hours of film to produce this 96-minute movie.

The highest grossing documentary debut of 2009, “Valentino: the Last Emperor” is as much about the designer and his companion as it is about the world of haute couture.

Someone quipped, “If the devil wears Prada, surely God is dressed by Valentino.”
[from Solares Hill]

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