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Don’t mention the “R” word.
“Definitely, we’re not retired people,” said Giancarlo Giammetti, sitting in his beautiful, art-filled penthouse with striking views of Manhattan and beyond. “We never thought we’d be retired and go bird-watching in the park. We never said, ‘Oh, now we’re going to smoke cigars and go on vacation.’ ”
Four years after Giammetti and Valentino Garavani departed from the house they founded half a century ago after a chance encounter at Rome’s Café de Paris in Rome in 1960, the duo’s visibility is as high as ever. They go to fashion parties; sit in the front row of shows, by friends like Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta, or, as was the case in Paris this month, take in the spring 2013 Valentino collection. They are clearly not fashion wallflowers, and have several high-profile projects in the works. In fact, almost immediately after leaving the house that bears their name, the duo embarked on creating the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum, which launched last December. It offers a digital archive of the designer’s life and work, rendered in a way so an online visit resembles a museum tour. The downloadable desktop application, the first of its kind for a designer of this caliber, was an instant hit, receiving more than 30,000 downloads in just the first two weeks. “It was great,” Valentino said. “To work with people so far from fashion was refreshing and relaxing.”
Then, in mid-September, the New York City Ballet celebrated the designer with a gala, and he created costumes for three works of the ballet master in chief Peter Martins. It was not his only recent foray into design — he also created the gown Anne Hathaway wore when she walked down the aisle to marry Adam Shulman in late September.
Valentino and Giammetti are also busy preparing for “Valentino: Master of Couture,” a major retrospective opening at London’s Somerset House on Nov. 29.
“So no retirement,” Giammetti said, though admitting that life now is far less nerve-racking than it once was. “Any project that he and I have now is at a different pace. It’s not under the stress of ‘collection after collection after collection,’ and not with a calendar where you know exactly where you are in one year and six months. Every project we have now is a bit more relaxed, I would say.”
Still, the two seem perpetually in motion, more recently spending more time than usual in New York, because of their association with the ballet (Valentino keeps a home in New York).
While Valentino still designs for such special occasions, Giammetti is embracing new technology like Twitter, though he is somewhat reticent about it, and, perhaps deliberately, underplays the fabulousness of the jet-set existence.
“I don’t have a life that is so tweetable,” he said. “I don’t really tweet. I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I see what my friends do. They tweet, but it is so shameful. They put a plate on Instagram. I mean, who cares? It’s not even on amazing china or a plate with a special design. It’s all just for the followers, and getting more followers than they already have. I read something very interesting the other day: Followers don’t mean you are special, because Hitler had millions of followers and Jesus had just 12.”
Yet their star rose significantly after Matt Tyrnauer’s 2008 hit documentary “Valentino: The Last Emperor” — and not always in ways agreeable to Giammetti.
Case in point: a recent night at the theater when Giammetti was approached for a photo. “So I say, ‘Did you see the movie?’ ” he recalled. “And she says, ‘What movie, Mr. Lauren?’ Imagine if people come and say, ‘I love you in the movie’ — but that was very depressing. It was even more depressing another time when someone said, ‘Can I have a picture with you?’ And I said of course, and the wife comes over and said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Cavalli.’ That was really insulting.”
As for Valentino, there’s no mistaking him. He has always remained true to himself, tan and all.
“I am proud to have been myself my entire career, never listening to all the input, suggestions, critics,” the designer reflected. “It’s not true that you cannot just evolve and not revolutionize all the time.”
The business of fashion may have changed, but Valentino insists he takes no issue with how the industry is increasingly tuned in to branding.
“Branding a name is good,” he said, noting his products bearing the “V” became status symbols. “But design has to be at the basis of branding.”
Both Valentino and Giammetti still keep a close eye on the fashion house.
“We very much support the house of Valentino, not just because it carries his name but we love what they [designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli] do,” Giammetti said. “We think they are great designers. They have been able to bring the Valentino style up to today, in a very modern way but respectful of the past of the house.”
Giammetti is equally confident about the house’s new Qatari owners.
“I feel great,” he said. “I think that the company was in a very difficult situation with the shareholders of the time. Permira didn’t understand the vision behind the fashion house. You cannot manage or run a company without understanding the vision or having a vision yourself, and when you look at just the bottom line and you don’t have any personal or private ambition, it’s a disaster. This was the situation. They were closing shops, and they were doing everything in a modest way.
“I don’t consider what the Qatar people have done for Valentino, but also for what they do in Europe with the hotels, the restaurants,” he added. “Everything they do has some quality that can compete with a European luxury conglomerate. I think it’s interesting and that’s what I judge. I don’t judge religion, I don’t judge ethnicity. They are investors who know luxury.
Plus, he added with a touch of nonchalance, “Sheikha Mozah is our client for a long time. Valentino personally did two weddings for the family.”
Meanwhile, Valentino is quite aware of the legacy he wants his name to embody. “Precision, personality, courage,” he declared.
And while many would expect him to cite the red dress a women should select could she choose just one Valentino look, he proves that after all these years, he is still full of surprises. As he puts it, she should go for something totally different: “A white lace shirt.”