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Valentino by Ingeborg Harms | 20th April, 2014 | Personalities

Like no one else, couturier Valentino knew how to intertwine his working and private lives. Now Giancarlo Giammetti, the fashion designer’s former life partner and managing director of the fashion house, has published an annotated illustrated book about his 50 glamorous years at Valentino’s side.

The 20th century was the era of the couturiers, genius tailors who invented glamour and dressed their select clientele magnificently. But of all the couturiers, it was only Valentino who managed the feat of also inhabiting the dazzling world he created, and of living a jet-set lifestyle. When he celebrated his departure from the fashion industry with regal grandeur at the Villa Borghese in July 2007, we, the assembled press, chatted to Uma Thurman at the bar, mingled with Princess Caroline of Hanover, Claire Danes und Sarah Jessica Parker on the patio, and strolled through the moonlit park in Mick Jagger’s entourage. As we did so, we got an inkling of what people meant when they talked about the legendary “Valentino Clan.” It is thanks to Giancarlo Giammetti that, despite his workload, the couturier found the time to cultivate friendships, to travel and to attend celebrations, dinners and Oscar parties. Because of his love and admiration for Valentino’s genius, Giammetti came to terms with the end of their twelve-year relationship and stayed faithful to the fashion house for 50 years as its managing director. In all this time, the two men enjoyed a friendship, which was strengthened not only by a shared concern for the brand they had created together, but also by a shared circle of friends. Giammetti has now published a retrospective of his life, which includes an abundance of photographs he took himself. It documents, for the first time, the extent to which Valentino managed to gather around him muses and models, music and movie stars, and members of the European aristocracy.

It all began in 1960 on the Via Veneto in Rome, in the crowded Café de Paris, when Valentino asked to sit down at Giammetti’s table. Back then the trendy boulevard was awash with international actors working at the Cinecittà, and with paparazzi. Snapshots sneakily taken by photographers from a passing Vespa were tolerated. Seeing and being seen was a pastime that the whole city indulged in, including Giammetti who had dropped out of his architecture degree. “I have always thought that my life started when I met Valentino.” As the fashion designer’s right-hand man, Giammetti not only discovered his talent for business, but also created a second, private Via Veneto – with himself in the role of the paparazzo. When Valentino spent the evening with Jackie Onassis in Capri, or when Lady Diana or Claudia Schiffer dived into the sea from Valentino’s yacht TM Blue One, Giammetti would be there to press the shutter release. And when Elizabeth Hurley, Hugh Grant, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rosario Saxe-Coburg and Elle Macpherson sweltered in the Caribbean sun, he would photograph them from the upper deck. Using the yacht as their base, Valentino and Giammetti would spend their summers in Tangier, Rio, Bali, Delos or Phuket, always surrounded by beautiful people, who looked stunning in every shot. “I call them our tribe, because where Valentino and I go, they all follow.”

Those who were invited to their chateau in Gstaad, to their Tuscan country home in Cetona or to Valentino’s Roman palace, could count on making exciting acquaintances there – and literally everybody came. Cat Stevens, Liz Taylor and Rudolf Nureyev stayed over when attending Rome Fashion Week. Madonna, Princess Mette-Marit, the young Dutch royal couple and Denise von Thyssen have all relaxed with their children in the park of his Wideville home. Aretha Franklin, Placido Domingo and Bette Midler serenaded Valentino at a gala birthday dinner in his honor in New York. Andy Warhol repaid the favor with a party at the Factory, and the long-serving editor-in-chief of US Vogue, Diana Vreeland, hosted a dinner with Barbra Streisand for her Italian guests. Luchino Visconti once asked the couturier to keep an eye on his lover Helmut Berger. But the latter immediately started an affair with someone in Valentino’s entourage, Marisa Berenson. “What can I say,” says Giammetti. “It was the 1970s….”

When perusing Private you get the impression that Valentino turned the traditional relationship of a tailor working for powerful clients on its head, because it was he who opened up doors for his customers. When Gwyneth Paltrow confessed to him that she had no plans for her thirtieth birthday over dinner, he suggested celebrating it in his country home. Of course, she and her friend Stella McCartney were also there when Giammetti moved his own birthday celebrations to snow-covered St. Petersburg. Even philanthropic socialites like Lynn Wyatt, Nan Kempner and Brooke Astor were delighted to be invited on skiing trips or cruises by their couturier. There is no doubt that Valentino “collected” celebrities. He was particularly fond of supermodels and the aristocracy, but what he loved most of all were spectacular weddings. Elizabeth Hurley’s wedding in India, Marisa Berenson’s in California and David Bowie’s nuptials with Iman were always also a celebration of the genius behind the wedding dress. When Anne Hathaway tried on her dress in Giammetti’s New York apartment in 2012, he had his camera ready. You almost feel the tears in the eyes of the bride as she looked in the mirror. Giammetti does not gloss over the crises, which sometimes played out behind the scenes, and often in public: Liz Taylor forcing her entourage to get on their knees to look for a diamond ring on the floor, or Lauren Hutton’s tantrum when she was not seated next to a friend. But those are yesterday’s dramas. What remains for Giammetti and Valentino is the lifestyle they created, a lifestyle that is utterly unique.  IH

IssueGG Magazine 02/14
City/CountryMilan/ Italy
PhotographyPress Images Valentino