JACKI LYDEN, host:
To a different sort of star now, one that shines in the firmament of haute couture. His name: Valentino Garavani.
(Soundbite of movie, "Valentino: The Last Emperor")
Mr. SIGMUND FREUD: (As himself) What do women want?
Mr. VALENTINO GARAVANI (Fashion Designer): (As himself) They want to be beautiful.
(Soundbite of music)
LYDEN: Valentino dressed Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O, Vogue's Anna Wintour and Gwyneth Paltrow. His reign lasted for four-and-a-half decades. He retired last year at age 75. His story, and the story of Giancarlo Giammetti, his partner in business and life, is told in the new documentary: "Valentino: The Last Emperor."
The director Matt Tyrnauer says Valentino is a straightforward guy.
Mr. MATT TYRNAUER (Director, "Valentino: The Last Emperor"): He's only interested in aesthetics and beauty, beautiful dresses, and also the fame and fortune of Valentino. That's Valentino.
Giancarlo Giammetti, the partner, very complex, and you see the dynamic of these two men, and it's really a story about how you get there with someone else, because they say in the film, many people, there would be no Valentino without Giancarlo Giammetti. So the movie is sort of a story of the power behind the throne but also about how these two people came together to form really a whole person.
LYDEN: Mm-hmm. Let's hear a little bit about what Giammetti himself says about that.
Mr. GIANCARLO GIAMMETTI: Valentino is above control. Valentino doesn't care. Valentino does what he wants. Valentino is Valentino.
Mr. TYRNAUER: You know, Valentino didn't need a film crew following him around. He's been an icon for 50 years. He couldn't really be more famous in his category. And he also is someone who presents himself as this perfect image all the time, never a hair out of place, and this sort of a myth of Valentino.
And this movie really threatened him because he saw that we were capturing him in unguarded moments where he was showing the real Valentino, and he hated that. So I would give him these, sort of, director-to-star lectures: If you don't show who you really are, people will hate you in this movie because you need to be imperfect because an audience is going to watch this and think everything was handed to you on a silver platter. You'll come off like the Marie Antoinette of fashion, and it will destroy your reputation.
Of course, he didn't get it at all and didn't listen to me, but now he sees it because people have said to me we didn't know about this man. We knew nothing about him. And now when you see this movie, you really do.
LYDEN: Let's play the clip where you did capture him being very much less than perfect.
(Soundbite of movie, "Valentino: The Last Emperor")
Mr. GARAVANI: I need to decide something very important, and I don't want to be filmed. I'm sorry, okay. (Unintelligible), go. Let's go home. Bye-bye.
Mr. TYRNAUER: What's happening there is Valentino confronting the end of his career because that scene was shot in the kind of ending stages of building an exhibition that was to really be the great retrospective of Valentino, to happen in Rome two years ago.
And he walked in a room where his most beautiful, important dresses, about 100 of them, were on the wall in mannequins, sort of like - I don't know, like butterflies pinned to a wall, three-stories high.
LYDEN: That's a good image.
Mr. TYRNAUER: Well, yeah, that's a pretty image. But what he saw looked like a catacomb, and he saw these mannequins that looked like bodies. He was having a devastating personal crisis because here you see someone in the third act, preparing to retire - although he hadn't announced it yet. He hadn't revealed anything - not having come to terms with that, and it's kind of like a death.
LYDEN: This is not only a portrait of a marriage, but this man's coming, as you say, to terms with the fact that he's not going to be doing this anymore. And even though he has everything - you show the villa in Rome, the corporate jet, the yacht, the major domo, the cute little pugs - he won't be walking out on that runway with his own collection.
Mr. TYRNAUER: Here's someone who has it all. I mean, you've understated the wealth, really. I mean, there's a chateau near Versailles that is not to be believed. I mean it was the chateau of Louis XIV's mistress, in fact. And this is his private world. He…
LYDEN: Yeah, I was thinking Napoleon without the violence, so I came close.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. TYRNAUER: Someone did say to me, the movie is what it would be like to follow Napoleon around with a camera. I don't know if that's entirely fair to either man.
LYDEN: Will we ever see anyone like him again in the world of high fashion?
Mr. TYRNAUER: I think you can definitively say no because when he started 50 years ago, you could do this. The world economy was very different. Fashion was very different. The world was very different.
Women changed three times a day in certain levels of society. Women work now. The clients aren't there, and now fashion's corporatized. So Valentino was literally, to use the cliche, a boy with a dream, you know, from an unglamorous town in Italy, who made it to Paris when he was 17 and interned and wanted this and got it and went on this journey with Giancarlo Giammetti, and they made it - they built their own empire.
Today, it's the money that makes the decisions, and they pick the talent. So you'll never have someone again who is able to start with nothing and work their way to, you know, the multibillion-dollar level.
LYDEN: Matt Tyrnauer, director of the new documentary "Valentino: The Last Emperor," which is opening around the country this weekend. Matt, thanks for joining us.
Mr. TYRNAUER: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.