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Over the last six months, Matt Tyrnauer’s much-anticipated documentary “Valentino: The Last Emperor” has been feted with star-studded affairs in Venice, Toronto and Miami — all without ever having been seen by the public. But now the film is finally being released in theaters across the country, which is, of course, cause for another party. Tonight, Valentino, his business partner and co-star Giancarlo Giammetti, Gwyneth Paltrow, Daphne Guinness and scores of others will crowd into the MoMA for a screening, followed by a dinner at The Plaza. It will be the kind of night that would have made for great footage. “I’ve written about people that live large and felt frequently that kind of cliché, ‘If I only had a camera,’” says Tyrnauer, who’s also a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, “because sometimes you just can’t quite communicate the level of these lives and the situations that you’re in.”
During the two-year shoot, Tyrnauer found himself jetting between Rome, Milan, Paris and Gstaad (when he took the train instead, he was scolded) in order to keep up with the designer’s schedule. But he wasn’t expecting to have to maintain Valentino’s sartorial standards, too. “My uniform was a blue button-down shirt and jeans,” he says, relaying an anecdote given at WSJ.’s Big Interview Series. “After some weeks, Valentino said, ‘Matt, if I see you in a blue shirt and jeans one more day, I’m going to scream.’” So the next day Tyrnauer switched to a white button-down. “Valentino said, ‘A gentleman never wears a white shirt before six in the evening.’ He likes to rib you. He plays the role of imperious icon, and he plays it well.”
Before the premiere, Tyrnauer talked to WWD about the logistics of filming a man who always changes his mind, the comedic and loving relationship between the designer and Giammetti and what it means to “pull a Valentino.”
WWD: Was it easy to convince Valentino to do the film?
Matt Tyrnauer: We hit it off, I’m not sure why. We had a really pleasant time doing the article [for Vanity Fair, August 2004]. I’m not sure they thought that much would come of it, really. I mean, they thought maybe it was worth a try, and then it evolved and amazing events ended up happening.
WWD: Were you aware that he might be retiring or holding that retrospective extravaganza at the Ara Pacis in Rome?
M.T.: Not at all. Valentino is always focused on his collection to the exclusion of almost everything else. Giancarlo, on the other hand, he’s a planner, and I think he had a vague idea that one day Valentino would want to retire and they would have to do something that was fitting to mark that. But they also change their minds more than any people I have ever met in my life, which made the whole thing even more of a challenge.
WWD: That must have been tough just logistically speaking.
M.T.: Oh, it was a nightmare logistically. You’d show up someplace for something and everything had changed. And that’s the way they go through life. It’s hard to even communicate the level to which that happens. You know, it’s not like occasionally changing dinner plans. It’s at a kind of Super Bowl level.
WWD: There are some tense moments in the film.
M.T.: There were many. An example is when Valentino goes to inspect the work at the Ara Pacis. Millions were spent and this was the place that Valentino’s work was going to be on display and he didn’t like what he saw when he walked in. He pulled a Valentino.
WWD: Which is what?
M.T.: Well, it’s sort of like a cross between a hurricane and a cyclone.
WWD: Did you ever wonder if he was performing for the cameras?
M.T.: He’s very used to being on camera actually, because he’s been filmed for 50 years. Valentino is kind of a movie star. He plays himself all the time, he’s never not on. So I don’t think he was playing to the camera, because, for Valentino, walking out the door is performing. This is someone who doesn’t leave the house unless the outfit is perfect, the appearance is perfect. There’s no slouching around in blue jeans and a T-shirt.
WWD: By the end of shooting, did you find him more or less complicated than when you had started out?
M.T.: Valentino, in the end, is really not that complicated. He’s really sort of a simple person in that he’s motivated by aesthetics. And he is very protected by Giancarlo, so he gets to live in this fantasy world of extraordinary luxury and perfection. Giancarlo is very complicated. He’s much more in the world, and he protects Valentino, but they are equal partners. People say it’s like a marriage, but it is more than a marriage. In the end, I think that’s what I respect most. And when you see Valentino just being himself with Giancarlo, what could be funnier? I mean, it’s like a comedy team. But that’s what they’re like. And that’s very Italian, you know?