In the fashion world few names evoke as much awe and respect as Valentino Garavani. The Italian designer was a world leader in the field for 45 years, became a billionaire, and lives like royalty.
It’s not surprising that Valentino would eventually become the subject of a documentary, but what is surprising is that Matt Tyrnauer’s Valentino: The Last Emperor — opening Friday — is a candid portrait of the designer that reveals him to be stubborn and a control freak in addition to a genius.
The movie isn’t an attack on Valentino’s immaculate reputation, but an intimate portrayal of him as a human being.
As you’d expect, shooting a film like this about such a guarded public figure wasn’t easy. “He almost quit every day and threatened to cut us off frequently,” says director Matt Tyrnauer. The filmmaker often had to pretend he didn’t shoot certain footage and constantly had to reassure Valentino during filming.
“I kept saying to him, ’If you don’t seem human no one will like you. They’ll hate you by the end of the film because you’ll seem like Marie Antoinette. So it’s OK to seem less then perfect.’”
It shouldn’t come as a shock the first-time director was able to gain such access and insight into the life of Valentino given that he has been doing it for years as a profile writer for Vanity Fair. In fact, the origins of the movie can be traced back to an article on the designer that Tyrnauer wrote for that magazine. It was while writing that piece that he discovered the unique symbiotic relationship between Valentino and his longtime business partner Giancarlo Giammetti.
“The article I wrote was really the story of a marriage. I didn’t care much about the fashion, although I think he’s remarkable,” says Tyrnauer. “But who has a 50-year relationship with someone who also makes them a billionaire? It’s really a love story in a way. That became the whole crux of the film.”
So the movie became a study of these two unique characters with Tyrnauer’s ever present cameras capturing both their opulent lifestyle and the occasionally tumultuous working relationship of two perfectionists. It wasn’t the puff piece that Valentino and Giancarlo expected and they were caught off guard when they finally saw the movie.
“They hated it,” laughs Tyrnauer. “There wasn’t enough fashion, there wasn’t enough glamour, and there wasn’t enough celebrity. But I refused to change anything.” Fortunately their attitude shifted when the film screened at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. “The movie got a huge reception and a standing ovation both times. Valentino burst into tears overwhelmed with joy. He was completely turned around by that.”