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Fashion designer Valentino Garavani (left), with Giancarlo Giammetti (Photo: Acolyte Films)

Directed by
Matt Tyrnauer
Produced by
Matt Kapp & Tyrnauer
Released by Truly Indie
English, French & Italian with English subtitles
USA. 96 min. Not Rated  

In his lion-in-winter portrait of designer Valentino Garavani, Vanity Fair editor and writer Matt Tyrnauer succeeds more so than other attempts at penetrating a fashionista’s facade. French designer Yves Saint Laurent remained regal and aloof in Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times, while in Lagerfeld Confidential, the German-born designer still kept many of his secrets hidden behind his trademark sunglasses. Valentino, in temperament alone, gives the audience what they want: the designer as divo, in the volcanic meaning of the word. That’s not to downplay his artistry. His designs for his 2007 Paris spring/summer collection is a sophisticated and oh-la-la homage to the slinky golden age of Hollywood glamour. (His models look more like Veronica Lake than Kate Moss.)

Scant on biographical information, Tyrnauer’s focus is on the final two years of Valentino’s career, where, in the fitting room, he has creative control. In the boardroom, however, he has been reduced to a bystander, no longer in control of the company he cofounded with his lover Giancarlo Giammetti. That’s when he lashes out because, as the film suggests, his hands are tied. His company is owned by a hotshot 39-year-old, who, during the $20 million celebration of the Valentino label’s 45th anniversary, begins selling off ownership to a private equity firm.

During the couple’s numerous bickering, the designer basks in dissing Giammetti in front of the camera, though more often than not, he’s letting off steam. During one outburst, while suffering pre-celebration jitters, he demands that filming cease. It doesn’t, and he shoves the camera away. But a divo can only reveal so much. The film’s scene stealer is the exasperated, patient, self-effacing, and persistent Giammetti. Valentino may submit himself to scrutiny, but Giammetti is all access. 

There are enough glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and famous to satisfy the curious (or readers of Tyrnauer’s magazine), like Valentino draping a diamond earring on one of his six pugs; Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie, and Molly travel with him wherever he goes. Awash with celebrity, the documentary is a rubbernecker’s delight. Blink and you might miss flashes of Anna Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, Anne Hathaway and her then fiancé, Raffaello Follieri. Elizabeth Hurley and Joan Collins seem to know instinctually where the camera is. (Princess Rosaria of Bulgaria is simply identified as “muse.”) After one opulent bash and then another, Tyrnauer lingers a little too long at the festivities.

More than once are the dying days of haute couture lamented. (The documentary’s nostalgic quotient really hits a high note whenever Nino Rota’s score from La Dolce Vita days is heard.) Certainly, the scenes of Valentino on his yacht on the Grand Canal or skiing down the slopes of Gstaad are vicariously seductive. But if the international jet set of beautiful people is made up of dethroned royalty, soap stars, and Us Weeklys list of the usual celebrated suspects, then exclusivity is truly relative. Kent Turner
March 18, 2009



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