December 31, 2009 -- “Valentino: The Last Emperor” is a documentary about the last year or so of the career of famed fashion designer Valentino Garavani. It is pretty much what you'd expect. Valentino is very creative, very fussy, a niggler for details, very temperamental, and is given to tantrums. He has loud arguments with his employees, his employers, his colleagues, anyone who happens to be around, but he's not a bad guy, just temperamental. His longtime companion, Giancarlo Giammetti, seems to know how to handle Valentino when his temper flares up. The documentary doesn't directly address Valentino's sexuality, but it does give some hints. One of them is dropped casually as Sir Elton John shows up for an Valentino event. Movie star Gweneth Paltrow shows up in several scenes. The documentary film crew gets remarkable behind-the-scenes access to Valentino's fashion empire.
We get to see Valentino sketching some dress designs and we see dresses being tried on models, where there is casual nudity. The models are sort of like mannequins you see in a store. They are just there to see how the clothing hangs on the body. It's nothing personal when Valentino and others fiddle around with their bodies during fittings. It is not something most people are used to. Giammetti seems to be a kind of business manager for the Valentino operation. He also oversees the set design for fashion shows, an operation much like set design and construction for movies.
The models march out on the runway with comically exaggerated hip movements. They are all tall, thin and have pouty expressions. Maybe if they ate something once in a while they wouldn't look so grim. The dresses are very stylish, something Valentino likes to call haute couture, which means very expensive. That's the one thing that surprised me about this film, how much money there is in fashion. Sure, I knew these kinds of fashionable clothes are expensive, but the money is simply astonishing. According to the film, Valentino sold his brand for over $1 billion in the 1990s. He lives in these huge villas in multiple countries. His lifestyle is extravagant. He is also very smart. He retired in 2007, just before the world economy went in the toilet.
In a look back on his career, we see that Jackie Kennedy, later Jackie Onasis, was one of Valentino's valued customers. Jackie had an eye for haute couture. There is an old story about how Aristotle Onasis, the Greek shipping billionaire, said he gave his wife Jackie an unlimited monthly allowance, and she over spent it in less than two weeks, largely on stylish clothing designed by Valentino.
As we follow Valentino's last year as head of the company, he gets ready for a huge fashion show to celebrate his 45th year in the business. There are rumors that he is about to retire. Valentino has no comment. A large corporation is buying out the Valentino brand. Valentino is starting to feel pressure to make his brand more commercial by designing more accessories (where the real money is, apparently). Valentino doesn't like the pressure. He wants to operate independently, as he always has. He simply wants to design beautiful dresses for women. That is all, and to be adored by his fans, too. This film rates a B.
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