Only recently did I have the wonderful chance to squeeze in the documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor that came out sometime this year (?). It was really inspiring, riveting, a learning experience, and most of all, it made me sad, angry, upset. While I loved how they filmed the amount of work that goes into one couture gown (all hand-sewn by meticulous seamstresses), and the creative process of draping, cutting, and endless drive for perfection, its upsetting that a designer as big as Valentino, with a 50-year career no less, unfortunately had to succumb to the pressures of commerce and industry. This was filmed in 2008– prior to Wall St. failing (causing doom that reverberated around the globe, as we all know). At the time, there was this unexplained need to consume, like some mythical cyclops who eats and eats but never feels satisfied.
Valentino has dressed everyone, movie stars, princesses, socialites, and mere mortals could only be so lucky to see it in the pages of a glossy. Everyone who doesn’t work in the fashion industry or not regular customers, for that matter, could never understand how creations by such designers cost so much. In the documentary, if you watch carefully, it explains it. Aside from the fact that it is made by artisans, using the best materials, amazing techniques, original designs, it is also a chance to own a piece of art, to have an electrifying, out -of-body experience. Of course, not everyone has this luxury, so we sit back, and admire and be in awe of greatness.
I suppose this was always the case, for true artists, throughout the milieu: in order to create and experiment, the artist has to have a patron who will take care of them. Many masters– during the Renaissance, Modern, Contemporary– has been documented to have to produce something less than what they are truly capable of, to make ends meet. Doesn’t that still ring true today? But I suppose a designer with so much success and accolades such as Valentino, in the documentary, its baffling to him to create something less than perfection, just so he can sell more handbags or shoes. The designer Marc Jacobs once said, that early in his career, when he won the Perry Ellis award for Best New Designer, he did not have any money. He was getting all this press, all these rave reviews for his Grunge look (its hard to forget, it defined a generation, after all), but unless he builds a store or sells enough clothes, he cannot keep designing, keep making clothes we dream about or we dream in. That’s the moral of the story, I suppose, watching this documentary. Even a giant falls.