NEW YORK, United States — While he has technically left his eponymous house, Valentino Garavani has certainly not left the public eye. Following his departure from Valentino Group, the iconic Italian designer received the Légion d’honneur in France, celebrated 45 years in fashion in an over-the-top multi-day extravaganza in Rome, and premiered a feature-length documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor directed by Matt Tyrnaur, at important international film festivals in Venice and Toronto.
Then in March, at a star-studded soiree in New York, Mr. Valentino was feted by friends like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, at a launch event for the film and conducted several television interviews, including ones with Oprah and this one with Charlie Rose (with his business partner Giancarlo Giammetti, pictured above). Then, just yesterday, another film premiere was rolled out in Los Angeles, this time supported by Tom Ford and Anne Hathway.
I enjoyed the film at press screening in New York in October and have been waiting to see what the broader reaction would be after its wider release.
The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Sylvia Rubin says the film “offers a glimpse into the lavish and charmed life of the perpetually tanned, diminutive designer, then in his mid-’70s. He’s petulant, passionate, excitable, funny, charming, catty and impossible. His ex-lover and lifetime business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, the brains behind the branding, spends much of his time making sure his other half doesn’t throw a fit over something or other.” This is right on the money from what I remember, and why it was a compelling film to watch: the characters and the story of a life and business partnership.
On the other hand, after awhile, it did seem unbelievable that two people could actually live such a charmed existence. Said The New York Times‘ Stephen Holden:”Watching the movie is a little like gorging on chocolate and Champagne until that queasy moment arrives when you realize you’ve consumed far too much.” Especially now, in the depths of recession, seeing this again makes their lifestyle seem even more surreal.
I think what I took away most from the film is just how much fashion has changed. Fashion has become a world where companies focus on image creation and the marketing of dreams and cultivation of aspiration to drive sales. And, the film frames Valentino as the last of the great couturiers which, in and of itself, is a depressing thought.
But, I hope this is not the case. The more I speak to people in the industry, the more I think we are returning to a time of great craftsmanship, design and timelessness in fashion. These are precisely the elements that enable even Valentino’s vintage dresses to be worn on the red carpet today. We need great designers and craftspeople more than ever before. To wit, many of the highly-creative designers I have spoken to in London have actually experienced an increase in sales for A/W 2009 — in stark contrast to the plummeting sales of ordinary brands churning out ordinary product elsewhere.
What is also clear is that the days of designer-as-dilettante are over. Valentino, a genius couturier and showman, would not be able to start a business today like the one he did 45 years ago. While he could essentially ignore the business aspects of what he did completely, today’s young fashion designers must be entrepreneurs as well, even if they have business partners to support them. They must work within commercial realities and expectations of investors, buyers and corporate sponsors.
That said, the film’s key message is that the success of the Valentino business and its continuing prominence and influence is the result of the amazing collaboration between two talented men. And it seems to me, Valentino deserves the spotlight even today, almost two years after his retirement.
On the other hand, it can’t make the job of Valentino’s replacements, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, any easier to have the man whose name is on the door, as it were, still working the PR like a racehorse. How can they move on if he is still lingering around?
Imran Amed is Editor of The Business of Fashion.