Women: They Want to be Beautiful.

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I had the pleasure of not only seeing the docu-film Valentino: The Last Emperor last night in Bethesda (part of the Front Row events) but also talking privately with the filmmaker, Matt Tyrnauer. Who is completely droll and hilarious. The film opens with a fantastic, slightly kitschy montage of Valentino and his models over the past 45 years, set to “Bette Davis Eyes” (note to self: download immediately!). At the outset of the film, Valentino is asked, “What do women want?” to which he replies, “They want to be beautiful.” In that same interview, he says, “I love beauty. It’s not my fault.” That line could easily summarize the way he is portrayed in the film, which is, at times, alarmingly real. This is a man who is very clearly interested in being publicly famous, but who is also intensely private. The film is revealing in that it shows Valentino as a designer, boss, and a lover, without being deferential in its treatment of what we all know as a slick fashion brand.

We’re largely taken away from the glossy ads and marketing (but not to worry: there’s plenty of ooooooh-inducing fashion!). We see Valentino – the man – his bad (obnoxious, self-important moments, insistence that others read his mind) but also his good: his humor and charm, his creative talent and energy, and most wonderfully, the tender relationship between he and his longtime partner, Giancarlo. As Matt told me after the film, “it’s really a universal story about a relationship…how to make a 50-year marriage last.” You see them quarrel, but only the way two people who truly love, understand, and respect one another can. And at a time when gay marriage rights in this country are gaining some ground, it paints a portrait of a love just as complex as any.

Perhaps most interestingly, the film conflates Valentino’s future within his own company with the fate of the fashion industry. Valentino is portrayed as the last man standing of The Real Fashion Industry: from the era before things got global and became all about money and marketing and celebrities. Valentino announced his retirement shortly after the film wrapped. And now that the industry is struggling to hold onto its monied facade, it begs the question: has fashion lost its way?

If you missed the film last night, fear not: we hear there are plans to bring the film to downtown DC.

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