Valentino – The Last Emperor

Still on my documentary roll last weekend I watched “Valentino: The Last Emperor” which takes as its subject Valentino Garavani, known to the world as Valentino the fashion designer. He is most famous for his red dresses and is the world’s master at creating a showstopping evening gown. He has dressed Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Guinness, Babe Paley, Princess Diana, Princess Rosario of Bulgaria, Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker and Anne Hathaway, amongst many others. Check out these examples of his beautiful dresses:

Early in the documentary he is interviewed by Hilary Alexander and he talks about his childhood. He loved watching movies that starred glamorous women such as Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner and the Ziegfield girls. It was this cinematic allure that drew him to fashion as a career.

There is lots of footage of him and his team at work inside his atelier. Everything is handmade in the true couture tradition with up to five women working on one dress. It shows the amount of work that goes into each dress; hours and hours of stitching, applique, sequins, pleating, tailoring, all by hand. Tempers flare and the tension is high due to the exacting and perfectionist standards demanded by Valentino. He is demanding, rude, impatient and prone to diva tantrums, but his vision is the one that has sustained a career that has lasted 45 years.

At the centre of the film is his relationship with Giancarlo Giametti; teasing, fractious and difficult, yet accepting and undoubtedly enormously loving. The couple have been both business and life partners for fifty years. Valentino thanks him, almost choked by tears, in his acceptance speech for his Légion d’Honneur award, and it is very moving.

The documentary builds to a climax with Valentino’s 45th anniversary retrospective. It is a couture fantasy which took place in Rome from 6-8 July 2007 in The Coliseum and the show cost in excess of €200,000. There is a lovely moment on opening night as Valentino shows Karl Lagerfeld, his contemporary and rival, around the exhibition. Karl congratulates him saying, “Compared to us, the rest are making rags.” The show that night, especially the aerial performances, is the perfect example of fashion as art, of the idea that dressing the human form is the first aesthetic of beauty and all art follows on from that.

For anyone with an interest in fashion this is a beautiful and inspiring documentary. One to watch.

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