Valentino: The Last Emperor

In Designers, Fashion
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I get to see the Valentino doc at TIFF. This is gonna be so amazing.
Valentino: The Last Emperor

Country: USA
Year: 2008
Language: English, Italian, French
Runtime: 96 minutes
Format: Colour/35mm
Rating: G

Production Company: Acolyte Films
Executive Producer: Carter Burden
Producer: Matt Kapp
Cinematographer: Tom Hurwitz
Editor: Bob Eisenhardt
Sound: Peter Miller
Principal Cast: Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti
International Sales Agent: UTA/Submarine Entertainment

He stands vindicated as one of the great arbiters of twentieth-century design. His forty-five-year career spans the dizzying innovations and financial explosion of post-war global fashion, from his start in the French ateliers where he studied, through the meteoric rise of his line in the sixties, when Italian fashion houses came to dominate the international marketplace, and on to today, as he departs, elegant as ever. A master technician, Valentino never forgot to keep women and men beautiful in his clothes. He works free from the waves and trends of the fashion world, adhering to a more Orphic, timeless relationship between fabric, body and form. He also, not incidentally, created an entirely new interpretation of the colour red.

This documentary, spanning the period between Valentino’s seventieth birthday and his final couture show, is of course concerned with showing his contributions to his field. But the film actually aims not for the head, but the heart. At the centre is a love story: the fifty-year relationship between Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti, his business partner, lover, best friend and confidante. Older gay European couples are not exactly known for their tell-all personalities, so this careful lifting of the veil gives us a sense of the unusual strength and courage these remarkable men needed to navigate the brutal world of egos and high finance – and to do so together. Their moments onscreen are touching, joyous and heartbreaking. Their five dogs (all pugs! chic!) are a constant delight.

This emotionally rich backbone contextualizes Valentino’s relationship with fame. There is no shortage of high-wattage celebrities floating through the film. It has ever been thus with him; Jackie O. herself married Onassis in a Valentino gown. But the filmmakers are careful to note that the glitterati deal with Valentino as an artist and as part of a relationship. It renders their crazy world – his house in the United Kingdom and its staff are not to be believed – that much more human and intimate.

It is perhaps such a balance that makes Valentino’s couture so treasured. His pieces are objects of glamour, to be sure, yet possess an attention to detail and delicacy that speaks to a gentle, loving soul behind the scenes.

Thom Powers