It is a story about love, but it isn't your typical boy-meets- girl fantasy. It's the love between a man and beauty. "I love beautiful things, I can't help it," says Valentino Garavani, the subject of the Matt Tyrnauer documentary Valentino: the Last Emperor. The film that documents Valentino's last two years as creative director of his namesake and 45th year in the business epitomizes its title – from his Paris fashion week to the 45th anniversary party, Valentino remains the last designer of his generation, who can connect the designs and fashion aesthetic of the past toward the future. Today his dresses remain iconic, from the black and white floor length design that Julia Roberts wore on the eve of her first Academy Award win to the signature Valentino red (which he says himself is overdone and too simplistic), the story is not your average designer masterpiece. Though it focuses on the clothes, the only perspective it takes is through the eyes of Valentino, a three-piece-suit 75-year-old who has a keen taste for specifics and doesn't easily compromise. While only briefly does the camera capture this legendary designer at a desk sketching and in the studio picking at a few dresses, it is enough to reinstate his final days on the runway.
The film coincided with his 45th year as a designer as well as his last as creative chairman of the Valentino Design Company. Yet the brief encounters with his sketchpad, a pencil and his perfectionist charm are enough to convince any fashionista that his work is visionary –just a simple sparkle addition to a white frock can change into a bedazzled evening gown, while a swanky red, over the shoulder dress with the right undergarments can become the perfect runway garment. It's about knowing what is beautiful, which for Valentino came at an early age. A lover of old films, he first found his fashion calling when he was watching Judy Garland and others on screen and felt he had to capture their beauty himself. "This was the best thing for me to do was to make dresses," he said at a press conference captured on film during his final years, "I am a disaster in everything else."
While Tyrnauer, a Vanity Fair Magazine correspondent, focuses on the drama, the story closes with the 45th anniversary celebration. Highlighting nearly five decades of design, Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, his companion and business partner of 50 years, leave the business for retirement amidst the turmoil of new partners. There will only be one Valentino, however, as Valentino: The Last Emperorclearly captures; "After me, the flood," he says in Italian. 'Do you know what that means?"
What makes his outfits worthwhile is that his garments can be taken straight from the lengthy crystalline runway to your own special event. While today's modern designers focus on extravagant runway show with accessories for brand name strength, Valentino was anything but accepting of such changing times. "The world for which those kinds of clothes were designed was disappearing, so Valentino and Giancarlo had to make it exist," Joan Juliet Buck said to Vanity Fair. Though his designs are sometimes pricier than our usual San Diego garb, a quick glimpse through some of Valentino's dresses in local shops like Neiman Marcus attribute to the thousand dollar price tag and would really spruce up your beachwear.
Out now is the DVD, which can be purchased online as well as rented through outlets like Netflix. If you're in the mood for a bit of Valentino yourself, shop Valentino's Boutique in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa or retailers like Neiman Marcus in Fashion Valley, Encore of La Jolla, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom or more.