Fashion films usually offer spectacular eye candy, so it goes without saying that Vanity Fair reporter Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary on the monomonikered designer and his business manager/lifelong boyfriend, Giancarlo Giammetti, is lovely to look at. But now that reality shows have made even rarefied corners of the couture world seem mundane, the surprise is that, like the subject’s meticulously constructed gowns, the film has more layers than initially meet the eye.
Tyrnauer tracks the duo from the preparation of Valentino’s 45th-anniversary collection in 2007 through a massive tribute to his career, while rumors swirl that the new corporate bosses are trying to push the brand’s creator into retirement. On one level, Valentino: The Last Emperor offers a rare glimpse at the bond between two men who have truly been partners for life. But it’s also a bittersweet portrait of the end of fashion as art and of supreme luxury as an aspirational construct. In Valentino’s era, gowns could command top dollar because they were sewn by hand to exacting aesthetic specifications; now, middle-class shoppers can get a piece of the highest-end brands via belts and perfume. The forced obsolescence of the elite is given a personal face; Valentino shows exactly how market changes hit the rich where they live.