Valentino: Tears and Cheers

New film reveals all sides of designer

VENICE — “I only remember what I want to remember,” joked Valentino to Giancarlo Giammetti during a stroll down Via Veneto, as the latter brought back memories of their first encounter at the Café de Paris in Rome on July 31, 1960.

This story first appeared in the August 29, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It must be since the Dolce Vita days that I haven’t been down here,” added Valentino with a twang of nostalgia.

Their walk down memory lane on a cold, winter day may have been orchestrated for a scene in Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” but the deeply rooted, inspirational and unique union between Valentino and Giammetti is really what sparked the film.

“The power of their relationship, which is unique and emblematic, touched me very deeply, and to be able to show it through such a powerful medium as a film was great,” said Tyrnauer, who first witnessed the bond while reporting on a story for Vanity Fair.

The 90-minute film, cut down from more than 250 hours of footage, was previewed here Thursday morning. It is part of the special events program at the Venice Film Festival and also will be shown at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival.

The movie tells of the last years of the designer’s career, from the opening scene of the February 2007 runway show to the aerial acrobatics in front of the Coliseum during the glamorous 45th anniversary festivities held that July in Rome. Throughout, the speculation of Valentino’s imminent retirement is rampant.

At once funny and emotional, the movie, produced by Acolyte Films, reveals the chemistry between the two men, once companions and still the most intimate of friends, whose yin and yang has led to one of fashion’s success stories.

For two years, the cameras whirred (not always without traumas) to capture their characters, their frailties, their tempers, their humor and their tears. “We had the cameras following us to the bathroom,” said Valentino. “It was a bit nerve-racking at times.”

The film is a fast-moving and in-depth montage of backstage flurry; a debacle over the number of sequins to shower on a white pleated evening number; skiing in Gstaad; shuddering over a puffy hairstyle à la Guy Bourdin concocted by Orlando Pita, and entertaining in his many mansions in Valentino style. Tossed in between are reruns of the couple’s past.

Valentino’s six pugs — Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie and Molly — are revealed in intimate moments as they get their teeth brushed, sprayed with cologne or decked out with diamanté chandelier earrings.

Tears trickle down Valentino’s cheeks on quite a few occasions — during the speech following the Légion d’Honneur in Paris; soaking up congratulations from Giorgio Armani after the July 2007 couture show at the anniversary bash, and on Italian TV when he revealed the sale of his company to HdP in 1998.

“Unfortunately, I’m very emotional and sensitive. I’m a human being and I’ve always loved my work,” said Valentino. “Maybe my only regret is not having been tough enough in certain moments of my career. I bend very easily.”