Stepping into the fashion world as an outsider, journalist-turned-filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer’s debut documentary “Valentino: The Last Emperor” shows an inside look at the life of legendary Italian designer Valentino Garavani. After 15 years writing for Vanity Fair, Tyrnauer embarked upon this project as a result of a job assignment profiling the designer. Inspired by his observations of Valentino’s unique relationship with his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, Tyrnauer devoted two years to chronicling what ended up being the last years of the designer’s career. The director visited Drexel Oct. 17 for a screening of his film, and he sat down with The Triangle to talk about the film.
“It was one of these crazy ideas that I was very determined to pull off, and it was quite an odyssey,” Tyrnauer said. “There had been many attempts to make fashion movies, and they didn’t really work. … A lot of people warned me off of it because they thought that fashion was a subject that just didn’t work on film.”
However, Tyrnauer stayed focused on his original vision to document Valentino and Giancarlo’s relationship in the context of the Valentino brand.
After spending time with Valentino, Tyrnauer noted, “I saw much more than just a designer. I saw a story of a relationship between Valentino and his lifelong partner in business and everything, Giancarlo Giammetti. I had just never seen a pair like this before.”
According to the director, Valentino did not take much convincing to sign on for the project. Tyrnauer described Valentino as a sort of frustrated actor who was “very keen to have a movie made about him.” Although he never admitted it, Tyrnauer suggested in the film that becoming a movie star would probably be Valentino’s alternate career choice to designer. Although Valentino was not hard to convince to sign on for the project, Tyrnauer noted that he was hard to wrangle during the shooting process, and as documented in the film, there were occasions where Valentino was not thrilled to have the cameras following his every move. It is moments like these in the film that break down the wall between the impossibly bronzed, well-put-together character that he portrays to the public, and the real Valentino.
According to Tyrnauer, there were subtle clues in the media at the time that fashion was becoming a topic that was “bigger than just something for readers of Vogue.” Tyrnauer describes the fashion industry as “a rarified world.” With the number of eccentric characters that dominate the industry, it is not a world a lot of people can identify with.
“With Valentino, I think you can identify. Even though Valentino is this kind of exotic creature, I think you can see in the end he’s a human being like the rest of us, and I think [the film] works on that level,” Tyrnauer said.
According to the Tyrnauer, Valentino hated the movie when it came out and “had to be convinced that it was not a work of assassination.” Although he admits that the film is not quite a work of tribute, Tyrnauer claims that his work is an honest and real film depiction of the designer.
Following the success of “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” Tyrnauer is currently producing and directing three upcoming projects. “Once Upon a Time in Beverly Hills” is a feature film for HBO based on an article he wrote for Vanity Fair. Tyrnauer describes it as “a Gothic story of Los Angeles in Beverly Hills and celebrity.” The other two projects are documentaries; one is on urbanist Jane Jacobs, who wrote “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” and the other focuses on Scotty Bowers, a pimp in Los Angeles in the Golden Age of Hollywood.