Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Documentary Film Review: Valentino -- The Last Emperor

"I know what women want. They want to be beautiful."


     This inspiring, heartfelt, and surprisingly humorous documentary chronicles the events leading up to the 45th anniversary celebrations of the grand couturier Valentino Garavani and his business and life partner, Giancarlo Giammetti. The documentary takes place in Rome, Paris, and Venice where the parties and runway shows for the designer's celebration took place with the guest list including fashion icons like Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Anna Wintour, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The audience gets to see first hand the behind the scenes of what goes on in creating a couture collection where you basically get to see the creation from sketch to runway and all of the decisions, editing, and arguments that come along the way. Aside from the obvious observation of Valentino being an artist, this documentary shines a light in his role as a business man, father to his pugs, friend, and lover. 

     Like any other artist, Valentino is always in the pursuit of beauty and always wanting something better. As the fashion show to his 45th anniversary quickly approaches he talked about this dress that he had been dreaming about and in the very last days before the new collection was revealed, he translated that obsession and dream into this beautiful floor length, white gown complete with sequins, and panels of ruffles. What's even more amazing is the team of seamstresses who work for him. At one point Giancarlo talked about how in 45 years of making gowns, they bought one sewing machine and it was never used. All of Valentino's gowns are sewn by hand [wow!]  by all of these women who stayed faithful to Valentino and the fashion house. 

   There's no question that Valentino was very passionate about his work. His passion for his work is as evident as his signature and iconic red gowns. During a press conference in the film, he talked about how designing couture gowns was all that he was ever good at and that he was a "disaster" in everything else. He also talked about how women in film noir movies inspired him to become a designer in the first place. When he was a little boy he talked about the time his sister took him to the movies and how the women in the silver screen inspired him to want to become a designer and create clothes for women. And what do you know, years later he dressed and designed for some of the most well known and powerful women in the world like Jackie O, Princess Diana, Anne Hathaway, and Gwyneth Paltrow.  

     One of the things that you never really think about when you think of a fashion house is how it's ultimately a business. During the film it was noted that creating haute couture dresses is merely for the image of the fashion house and that it doesn't really make money. What generates revenue are things like Ready to Wear (RTW) clothes, handbags, shoes, and accessories. This makes a lot of sense, because when you see celebrities on the red carpet wearing haute couture gowns by these famous designers, those gowns are just loaned to them. They're usually never purchased and later stored in the fashion house's archives. In 1998, Valentino and Giancarlo sold the company to an Italian company called HdP and ultimately ended up with Marzotto Apparel. That venture was one of the issues that ensued in the film, in which the business partners of the company were trying to control the creative side of the fashion house. And you can just imagine how Valentino reacted to that [drama!]  

     Even though Valentino is the creative mastermind of his designs and how several seamstresses helped him make his work come to life, it was very heartwarming to see how humble and thankful he was to them and how emotional he gets when reflecting on his work. During the exhibit of his work titled "Valentino in Rome, 45 years of style" he greeted the ladies as they arrived at the historical venue called Ara Pacis which showcased 300 of his creations [holy crap!] Surprisingly enough, this was only one of the tearful moments in the film. 

     And when he was given the French Legion of Honor medal, his tearful speech included his gratitude to his work and life partner Giancarlo Giammetti. Throughout the entire documentary, the two were often seen arguing and bickering about anything and everything, business or personal, and it was moments like that speech where the audience gets to see the dichotomy of those two worlds and their sincere appreciation for one another. In the film, Giancarlo even said that "to be with Valentino as a friend, as a lover, as an employee, you need a lot of patience." It only comes natural given that they've been together longer than the fashion house itself. They were there for each other since the very beginning. The film portrayed their relationship as definitely very genuine and moving. So if you want to learn a little bit about fashion history and one of its most influential icons, this documentary is a definite must see. 

Love, KB

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