|Central Park meeting. Photo: JH. 2:00 PM.|
|March 19, 2009. Sunny and warm, yesterday in New York. What a friend of mine called “fake warm,” reminding that we’ve had “snow in April” many times before.
Notes on the Valentino documentary and the party that followed at the Plaza.
I like that picture we ran on the top of yesterday’s Diary of Valentino with Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow listening to Giancarlo Giammetti, with Claire Danes beside him making a point to someone across the table from her (maybe Martha Stewart), and off to the right the very tanned Valentino gesturing to the preoccupied (or distracted) Anne Hathaway.
Everybody looks like a real person. You can hardly see Madonna’s ego which obviously is as big if not bigger than the very tanned man to the right of her. You can see that Giancarlo has an embracing manner you’d imagine in an Italian man, and the ability to charm the material girl back to little girl-dom. Anne Hathaway, who is as pretty in person as she is on the screen, maybe prettier, looked most vulnerable that night.
Image unstyled, un-conscious; relaxed, at table some plates touched, others not. A little wine, oblivious to the flash of this camera. Home at last.
|Meeting Valentino. I never knew much about, nor was interested in the personality Valentino until a few years ago when he kept popping up as a subject for the NYSD. He was an Italian couturier who looked the part. Fellini couldn’t have cast it better. Italian couturier from head to toe; the only one. And particularly Roman in bearing. Imperial.
He became famous in the 1960s after Jackie Kennedy, later Onassis, became a customer. This I knew. Jackie lifted the American garment industry up into the American Fashion Industry. She was young, beautiful, and looked more like a movie star than the widow of the martyred President. Valentino’s clothes looked like were made especially for her. And, as I learned on Tuesday night watching the documentary “Valentino, the Last Emperor,” Valentino’s clothes for Jackie Kennedy Onassis were made for her.
Several years ago I learned that the designer and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti who looks like a silver haired younger brother of Mastroanni, also had a very grand apartment, albeit small as Fifth Avenue apartments go, in the same building where a friend of mine lives. Whenever they were in residence for the ten days or two weeks at a time – maybe two or four times a year, there were always cartloads of fresh flowers delivered daily, which I know is not uncommon in some rarified households, but nevertheless ... for glamorous dinner parties entertaining the best of them.
|A few years ago there was a much grander living space becoming available in one of the very grandest (read: snobbish) buildings on the avenue, and Valentino, having heard about it told his broker he wanted to bid on it. The broker told him he was wasting his time, that he’d never get by the board because of his business. When he protested that several well-known residents of the building were very good clients of his, the broker advised that although these clients may love his clothes, they don’t want to ride in their elevator with their dressmaker. Oh my. The designer got himself another broker. Whether it was the “dressmaker” issue or some other of personal choice, Valentino stayed put. and remains today where he lived then.
A few years ago I was on the boat of some friends in the Mediterranean and one day we put down anchor in a cove in Sardinia to go to a late luncheon at the seaside villa of a woman named Denise Thyssen. Mrs. Thyssen was a beautiful Brazilian woman of the Brigitte Bardot school who had been one of the five or six wives of Heine Thyssen, the mega-rich German industrialist and art collector.
|Valentino’s boat was also anchored in the area, and we were told he would be coming to lunch along with many of his guests. Everyone on our boat was curious to meet the man. We’d seen the boat in other harbors. Not the biggest of the bunch but definitely the sleekest of yachts with its gleaming navy blue hull and shining white above the deck. It looked like speed and spoke the words “cool,” “chic,” and “luxury.”
In the end the man and Giancarlo did not join the party but several of his guests arrived. It was then that I learned that Valentino and Giancarlo frequently traveled with an entourage of friends -- friends who were close, like an extended family. I didn’t have the impression of an ego traveling with satellites but more a man or men who liked people and liked having a family.
In 2007 the two men gave a party in Rome to celebrate Valentino’s 45th year in business. I had been fortunate to be invited (for several hundred -- maybe several thousand guests). For some reason that seemed right at the time but now forgotten, I declined and didn’t travel to Rome. After the party, however, in publishing accounts and pictures of the three or four day event, I regretted not being there if only to “see” what Valentino and Giancarlo had done.
|Since then I’ve been in the presence of the man more than once. His very tanned Roman face belies his warmth and charm, his ready smile and laughter. He is one of those who wears two sets of self-image – like the perfect fitted jacket with a practical vest: the professional, the businessman, the strategist; and the other, the artist, the temperament, the creator. It is the artist who loves to be surrounded by friends and family and his dogs and his partner. The partner, Mr. Giammetti is not so much a surprise although he too looks perfectly cast for his role. Handsome, always smartly dressed, wearing his impeccability like a favorite old shoe, and a shrewd businessman/chief executive. Eager and focused; and like his partner, very courteous.
So, with that, I came to Matt Tyrnauer’s brilliant documentary on Tuesday night at MoMA. Images I remember: the process of the artist at work: first with his sketch,then with his bolt of fabric suddenly enveloping the tall, thin and bony half nude model, showing the women with the needles and thread how he wants it to drape and fold and pleat and bow. And where. Then you see them putting it together, teamwork directed by the directrice and by the boss. A hundred seamstress/tailors and only one sewing machine in the place. Because: they do it by hand. They are the artisans. Then you see the half-finished product and the boss thinking it over and editing. Then you see the almost finished product and the same moment, maybe garnished with some of that designer-drama. Then you see the product finished except for the ruffles or ribbons or two. Or sequins.
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|Life for Valentino and Giancarlo is like the dream marriage for anyone who ever dreamed of marriage. Incredible cooperation, amazing ability to give and take, to give space and to remain in sync; focused and unfettered. No one has to change for the other. Disagreements aired, stirred up, aired again, stirred up and finally, like the dress with the sequins and the ruffles and the ribbons, finished. And on to the next.
Is it true or just a movie? Well, they’ve been together now for FIFTY years, and as Giancarlo says in the film about life with Valentino: In those fifty years he’s been in the man’s (each other’s) company every day except for a total of maybe two months out of 600 (a half century).
This is a documentary about life as a business, and business as a life; a very very successful one that grew and grew. Also they are two people who know how to live, to enjoy the fruits of their passionate labors. The yacht, frequently used, the chalet in Gstaad where The Man skis from the top of the mountain to the bottom on the steepest, fastest slopes (and watching him is like watching his yacht cruise through the Mediterranean waters, effortlessly and at twenty knots). His physical presence, even on the steepest slopes, is always proud and royal. He’s well-tailored inself-confidence. If there is insecurity, it is kept aside. Giancarlo said that Valentino maintains his public self at almost all times. He does not confide in others.
|The film is funny because the man is funny. He’s a character. He’s not like anybody else. He’s Valentino. That imperial personality, that vast wealth built on shmattes elevated to art, a fortune made from catering to the very rich, a grand lifestyle with the villa outside Rome, the apartment in New York, the chateau outside Paris, the lovely little chalet, the yacht, the jet.
The audience was mesmerized. Afterwards many said it was the relationship of the two men that got to them. The love. Ah, but it might have been the business too for the two are creative geniuses and have the unique ability to work separately but together for the same cause: the success of their business which is also part of their promotional kit. Success begets success and to wear it is to own it. Like A Valentino.
Ultimately the film is a cinematic portrayal of a rarified working life in that last half of the 20th century. Watching it I was frequently reminded of the news today and the financial state of the world. Watching the footage on the spectacular Valentino extravaganza in Rome, was like watching the last of something, as if the ship we’re on is leaving that harbor perhaps never to return in our lifetimes.
|Photographs by PatrickMcMullan.com|