Film festival series begins
"Valentino: The Last Emperor," a documentary on one of the last great fashion designers, will launch the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival Summer Film Series at the Chilmark Community Center on Wednesday, July 1.
Audience members not part of the rarified world of haut couture may just remember Valentino Garavani best as the designer who dressed Jacqueline Kennedy both before and after her marriage to Aristotle Onassis. Each of Valentino's magnificent, hand-sewn gowns could be a costume for one of the 30s and 40s Hollywood movie stars who fed his fantasies as a child and later provided the inspiration for his designs.
Vanity Fair Editor-at-Large Matt Tyrnauer gained unprecedented access to the fashion icon for his first documentary. As the film reveals, Valentino Garavani at 77, with his perpetual Italian tan, is still chasing youth and fantasies, despite his 2008 retirement from his design house.
Valentino's relationship with Giancarlo Giammetti, his partner in love and business, has lasted as long as his career, although only the façade of public affection is revealed on film. Valentino credits Mr. Giammetti with his label's huge success. The two of them hobnob in high style with other fashionistas like Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace and Diane von Furstenberg, as well as such glitterati as Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Schiffer, dropping in at their various villas and domiciles, yachts, and jets.
The film focuses on one of Valentino's last big spring collections and celebrates his 45th year in the industry with a three-day bash in Rome at the Villa Borghese and the Temple of Venus overlooking the Colosseum.
Scenes abound of seamstresses frantically stitching, models in various stages of dress and undress posing or walking the runway, Valentino's six pugs sharing their master's high life, and the Great One himself waving to his audiences.
Like the magazine for which he writes, Mr. Tyrnauer is accomplished at presenting this opulent but superficial world of monied celebrity. He is successful at illustrating how the world of high fashion has been taken over by multinational corporations, as was the case with Valentino. It does not, however, reveal who Valentino really is underneath the gloss and protective barrier of wealth.
Mr. Tyrnauer keeps his cameras at a distance, and Valentino remains a well-groomed shell. Whether or not this approach was in deference to Valentino's wishes is not clear. The de rigueur lack of music and narration through most of the film also contribute to the sense of distance established by the filmmaker.