Friday, July 17, 2009

The Two Valentinos

My haircutter of many years upped and moved to Brooklyn which is ok if I have an afternoon to devote to getting my hair cut, but sometimes I do not. My friend Matt Fox at Fine and recommended his barber who has been cutting his hair for ten years. His name is Valentino and he works at the Astor Place Barber Shop. So off I went Thursday night after work. At the Astor Place Barber Shop, you go down stairs like you’re entering the subway, push through doors, and go to the front desk. I asked for Valentino, and fortunately he was not busy so I didn’t have to wait. He was an older guy, Eastern European, very thick accent so I could hardly understand his English. He said, “Vat do you vant?” I said, “A trim, longer on the top, shorter on the sides, Mad Men.” He said, “Mad Men? Vat is Mad Men?” So I didn’t know how this would go. He said, “You vant ‘classic,’ Gary Cooper.” I thought, that works too. He cut my hair in about five minutes, chop, chop, chop, which I liked. Once, years ago, when Barneys was on Seventh Avenue, I got my hair cut at the salon in the lower level. It took about an hour and a half, and I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. Valentino finished up by blow drying my hair with a brush, curling it for lift. “Um,” I said, “I never blow dry my hair.” Not stopping, he said, “You don’t have to do this at home but I have to, to make sure it is right.” I went to the desk to pay. $15 plus tip. You can’t beat that. I walked around the corner to meet TD at a movie theater. His eyes light up, “I like your hair cut.” So I will return again to Valentino Number One.
Valentino Number Two: TD and I were at the movie theater to see Valentino: The Last Emperor. Wow. This movie has been opened for several months so many people have seen it already but if you haven’t and you love Beautiful Things, do not miss it.
The movie was produced and directed by Matt Trynauer who is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair. I’ve met Matt a few times and once had lunch with him and my friend Vanity Fair editor Aimee Bell at the Algonquin Hotel. In fact Aimee is a contributing producer on this documentary movie, which wonderfully captures the great Italian couturier Valentino who recently retired from the fashion business.
The movie follows Valentino through a few collections and the monumental celebration in Rome of his 45th anniversary in business. It also tells his back-story very well with old clips. Valentino says, “When I was a young boy I was pretending to be asleep but I was really dreaming of beautiful dresses.” My favorite passages show Valentino at work in his Roman atelier – creating a dress by draping red chiffon over a nearly naked model, and fashioning a white gown with strips of fabric along its skirt. Valentino studies the way the white dress moves on the model as an artist or sculptor studies their work. “Should the strips have sequins?” he asks. Silver sequins are sewn on the white strips by hand which are sewn on to the gown by hand. A clutch of people, all working intently with scissors, needles, and thread, crowd around the dress on the model as if performing an operation. It’s a poignant depiction of the couture creative process.
If I got it right, we are with Valentino in his house in Rome, his house outside of Paris, his house in Gstaad, on his private plane, and on his yacht. The life is luxurious, everyone is speaking Italian or French, and of course everyone is beautifully dressed; this movie makes you want to go out and shop for clothes. It celebrates touchingly the relationship between Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, partners in business and life. The fashion shows and the anniversary party are fun to watch. Valentino really was a master at making women look gorgeous, and a master of the up-and-down vertical line. His gowns made women appear taller and thinner, and who doesn’t want to look like that? At the anniversary party Karl Lagerfeld sidles up to Valentino and says, “Compared to us, every one else is making rags.”
Valentino retired in 2007 after this moving finished filming. He and Giammetti had sold the company to a company who sold it to another company. Now lots of money is at stake. Alessandra Facchinetti, from Gucci, was named as creative director to replace Valentino, and though she was well liked I don’t think cash registers were ringing fast enough so she was quickly axed. New creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli were promoted from the Valentino accessories group but things don’t bode well for them; at the recent couture collection, Cathy Horyn at The New York Times noted that some of the stiff gazar designs looked like they might “scratch,” not exactly what you want in a $20,000 couture dress. Let’s hope that the Valentino label doesn’t spiral down through numerous designers as other houses have. But there is a lot of money on the line, and patience is not part of the game. When Valentino started out, there was not the same pressure. He could develop his world of luxury, style and exquisite taste which we are given access to in this well done documentary. I didn’t want this movie to end; I wanted to stay there longer in that air of European refinement. So I will also return again to Valentino Number Two.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Wasn't that movie fabulous? I have to admit I came out feeling a bit's hard to imagine any of the other labels put such care and craftsmanship into their pieces. I was just flabbergasted that they didn't have even one sewing machine in the atelier. All by hand! Do we not get a photo of you with your new haircut? It sounds quite dashing...