First, a disclaimer: I am a fashion rube. My interest in designer frocks is stretched to the limit by 10 minutes of watching the red carpet parade at the Oscars. I think the fragrances marketed under Valentino's name range from insipid to awful, and for all I know the clothing cognoscenti feel the same way about his dresses. Personally, I think the conservative, feminine glamour of Valentino gowns is pretty appealing—but then, I’m a rube. What do I know?
All of which is to say that I have no idea what serious fashionistas would think of Valentino: The Last Emperor. The film presumes the audience has respect for the man, as well as for the cultural importance of high fashion. Not that the filmmakers take the whole business too seriously. Valentino’s over-the-top lifestyle, his tantrums, and his squabbles with longtime partner Giancarlo Giammetti are all presented with wry affection. An extravagant gala celebrating the 45th anniversary of the fashion house is portrayed as the vaguely surreal event it must have been, and there are some very funny moments, including a priceless exchange between Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld. And if you’ve ever suffered pangs of envy for the catwalk goddesses, this movie will cure them. I’m sure the mute model who is shown standing around naked while clothes are constructed on top of her was very well paid for her time, but watching the process made me realize she must have one of the most boring jobs on earth.
In spite of all the fun, there’s a tragic aspect to Valentino: The Last Emperor. Corporate forces of evil lurk in the background throughout the film. The narrative ends with the ascendancy of the bean-counting weasels, followed by Valentino’s retirement, so all the high living and bitchery we’ve seen takes on an unexpected layer of poignancy. The film becomes a sort of swan song for Valentino and a tribute to the dying traditions of haute couture.
The trailer below gives you a pretty good idea of what the film is like, although I should point out—for those of you who do care about clothes—that the movie features lot more of Valentino’s dresses than this teaser would lead you to expect.