BoF Recommends | Valentino, the last Emperor


NEW YORK, United States – In the Summer of 2007,  around the time when Valentino Garavani finally resigned from his own label after months of speculation, I would have done anything to be a fly on the wall. What, with the planning of a 45th anniversary celebration in Rome, the controversy surrounding Permira’s battle with the Carlyle Group for control of the House, the never-ending will he-won’t he leave debate, and the ensuing rumours about potential successors (Giambattista Valli, Zac Posen, Proenza Schouler), there was a veritable tornado of activity going on in the Italian fashion house.

Today, 18 months later, I got my wish. I caught an afternoon press screening of  Matt Tyrnauer’s film, Valentino – The Last Emperor, in New York City. The film happened to focus on Valentino and his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, at precisely this time. And while there was scant mention of the business issues of the day, it was still an engaging film that focused on the uninterrupted partnership of these two legendary men of a bygone era in la moda Italiana.

To get a rare inside peek into Valentino’s world, complete with yachts, pug dogs, a major domo and several over-the-top mansions, was certainly a humorous treat, and one which left many of my fellow audience members — Andre Leon Talley and Rachel Roy included — screeching with laughter.

In some of the more serious passages, which pitted Matteo Marzotto, of the Italian fashion dynasty, against Mr. Giammetti, it was clear that this was also a period of great stress for the two men who were trying to put a brave face on what they clearly believed was a big mistake for the business.

More than anything else, however, this was the life story of two men — incorporating business, love and fashion — who built a fashion house literally from scratch. From early bankruptcy in the 60s to rapid business growth in the 70s to a phase of extreme licensing in the 80s (Valentino car anyone?) and the years of multiple investors in the 1990s, these guys lived through it all.  But in the end, it was too much.

Giammetti himself stated that Valentino wasn’t made for this new era of fashion, which would require returns on investment, brand extensions and a scaling back of their truly extravagant lifestyles.

With  hindsight, we can also see how the business has struggled without their focus, perfectionism and dedicated partnership. The business has veered from one designer to another under the poor stewardship of Permira, which as I mentioned at the time of the investment announcement, has no previous experience in the high fashion business.

Now it is left to Valentino’s new successors to help find the way — and perhaps they will benefit from some of the advice and guidance that Ms. Facchinetti clearly did not have.