As a huge fan of the reality show Project Runway and a long-time fashion news junkie, I looked forward to watching the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor. Director Matt Tyrnauer offers a delicious behind-the-scenes look at the work and life of famed Italian designer Valentino and his partner and business associate Giancarlo Giammetti. We get to see it all – from Valentino, 77, talking about how his passion for design stems from the pursuit of beauty, to the personal drama erupting backstage over the desert scene Giammetti is creating for a major runway show.
Does Valentino emerge as imperious? You bet. But it’s a compelling movie. It’s fascinating to see him orchestrating the placement of each pleat on a garment being fitted on a model in the middle of his salon; discussing in great detail how and why he designed a particular look for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; offering a tearful, unexpected tribute to his partner Giammetti – who built the business side of the fashion empire -- at an awards ceremony; and interacting with a devoted crew of seamstresses wearing white lab coats who are eager to sew on each sequin and bead for a designer they clearly admire. And yes, we even get see his pet pugs, who ride on his private jet and are experts at getting their picture taken. The film also illustrates the changing nature of the fashion business as we see the pair negotiating the sale of the business. The two know the days of the European fashion houses devoted to pursuing beauty and hosting monumentally elaborate fashion shows might just be over. Today, corporations own fashion franchises emphasizing branding and spinning out the merchandise. At one point of the film, Valentino is walking with friend and fellow designer Karl Lagerfeld through a gallery showcasing years of Valentino’s designs as part of a farewell bash in Rome. It’s touching as the two talk about specific looks now hanging high along the gallery’s walls and reminisce about their early days as designers. It is clear they just might be among the last of a breed.