Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Caveat Emperor.


“I know what women want. The want to look beautiful.”

It’s been a busy few days here at the manse. Far too busy for my tastes. So I took a breather yesterday and went to sit, alone but for one other audience member, in a darkened theatre to watch a documentary about a dress maker and what would turn out to be his last couture collection.

Only it turned out to be a bit more than that. “Valentino: The Last Emperor” is a love story. Between a man and his work. Between the filmmakers and the glamorous universe of haute couture. Between a man and another man; neither of whom would have reached such dizzying heights of success without the other. Would that all relationships were built upon that kind of support and tolerance. It is a subject that not all will be able to accept much let appreciate, which is a shame. There is much to be learned here from the standpoint of the easy and elegant life.

I will warn you that the film draws you in. But your tolerance for talented, creative and pampered personalities should be high.

Here are a few things that I noted watching an extraordinary film about an extraordinary man.

Failure is not limiting. Valentino Garavani had one bankruptcy under his belt when he started again in Rome. Which leads to the second truth: you must be willing to risk a lot if you believe in your abilities.

If you believe that much in your abilities do not compromise. Accommodate, yes. Compromise, never.

But be willing to admit your limitations and surround yourself with those who are the best at those things that you cannot do well.

At every walk of life, details matter. Master the details and you will be a success.

Those who are at the pinnacle of success look the part. Mr. Garavani and Mr. Giammetti are very well dressed (if a little flamboyant with jewelry for my tastes.) Of course, this may be because both men are Italian and are, therefore, constitutionally mandated to be well turned out. On his way up, Mr. Garavani was a bit more fashionable in his dress, but these days he is impeccable in tweeds, worsteds, linen and even denim.

Having a car and driver is truly a better way to live. To say nothing of a private or chartered jet. And a staff to take care of it all for you.

Try not to be filmed eating or drinking. There is just no way to do it elegantly.

If you are incredibly successful, your eccentricities will be tolerated (and someone else will brush the dogs’ teeth.)

Speaking several languages is both useful and very chic. (Even the majordomo may be forgiven his short sleeved shirt and tie because of a facility with languages and a command of detail. Maybe.)

Style is eternal, and therefore not subject to the whims of fashion. Valentino’s best gowns are as beautiful and classic today as they were when they were created. He and Mr. Giammetti live very well and very elegantly. Perhaps the design mavens among you can identify the decade in which their digs were decorated, I could not. They are simply surrounded by beauty and luxury.

It is of vital importance that you have someone in your life who can tell you the 100% honest truth. Be willing to listen to that person and to forgive unconditionally when you don’t like what he or she may be saying. Provided that that person has your absolute best interests at heart.

There are many more things that the movie gave me to think about. I’m glad that I took the time to see the spectacle on the big screen and I may just buy the DVD.

Read the article that inspired the movie here And if you get a chance, see the movie. He may well have been the last connection to the days of la dolce vita and la belle figura. But beware, “Valentino: The Last Emperor” is captivating. Don’t plan on returning to work if you take in a matinee.

16 thoughts on “Caveat Emperor.

  1. My wife and I liked this movie. On top of everything you mentioned, she was thrilled by the relationship between the two men, “they disagree, but they never fight.” Who knew that when I suggested this movie (yes, I was looking for good husband points, not because I needed them, but can you ever score enough of those?) that I would find such an astonishing example of a strong, long term relationship?

    I laughed out loud when I read the bit about the short sleeve dress shirt. I whispered to my wife “I can’t believe he let’s him wear that!” But I am a little torn about this rule, having read that Ian Fleming preferred short sleeve shirts, and he was a rather cool fellow.

  2. Valentino is fascinating, and certainly has talent and elegance. I saw the Valentino exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Louvre) last summer, and a lot of the 70s outfits were over the top; so many things happening at once, so many frills, such BIG flowers…almost like Cher costumes by Mackie. When he is restrained he is MUCH better, as in the demure, charming dress worn by Jackie when she got hitched with Ari. Many people are not aware that Audrey Hepburn was a client of Valentino. She is so much associated with Givenchy, but in her private life, she wore a fair amount of Valentino. With regard to the interiors of Valentino, they remind me of Saint-Laurent’s Paris apartment. They are no longer “interior design,” but repositories of great, very prestige art works…pretty much museums, and in that way somewhat intimidating statements of power and privilege. Who cares what the sofa upholstery is when you have Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol on the wall? So many of the designers themselves look like slobs, air heads, or just very peculiar (what’s with pussy cat bow Elber Albaz and powdered hair Karl Lagerfeld?). Valentino always looks like a perfect gentleman in suit, crisp shirt, and tie. In this respect he is in the company of Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint-Laurent, Gianfranco Ferré (the fattest but best turned out male designer ever!), Norman Norell, Sir Hardy Amies, and Balenciaga. This, as well as his great success, may be part of the reason why Valentino has been accepted into the highest echelons of society and why somebody like Galliano seems to be on the outside (as talented as he may be…at times). The rarefied world of Valentino was hinted in the current, must see film, “The Queen & I,” a documentary/ interview style film about Farah, Empress of Iran, filmed mostly in Paris. Valentino invites the empress, and sends his private jet to fetch her for a 3 day visit. How nice to have friends in high places…!

  3. I am not sure whether the little cinema in Buzios has it yet and it might well be on in Rio – need to have a look. Can’t say that the subject matter initially has me running for a ticket but I keep an open mind. Just one substantive comment – you mention the fact that he had one bankruptcy behind him before he started again and say that this demonstrates that one must be prepared to risk a lot in pursuit of a goal – but, surely, a bankruptcy just shows that he risked other people’s money – and lost it. Maybe, the film tells us that he repaid it all eventually. That would be nice.

  4. And another thing – short-sleeved shirts are an ABOMINATION. Ian Fleming was, indeed, a cool fellow, but the belted, short-sleeved shirts that he wore in Jamaica were the very epitome of this ABOMINATION.

  5. For the most part short sleeves don’t look right, BUT there are exceptions to every rule. For one thing, if you are tall, slim, youthful, and not bad looking, it is easier to break the rules. A crisp short sleeved shirt on the right guy at the right time can look pretty sharp. Elegance is knowing when the rules can be broken, and how far to take it. If one is attending a casual affair, and the temperature is swelteringly oppressive, long sleeves can actually look uptight and uncomfortable. I’ve seen plenty of stylish guys in Paris or Rome cafes, wearing short sleeve linen, oxford cloth or voile shirts in the middle of summer, and nobody would deny that it doesn’t look good and appropriate.

  6. Loved this post.
    1. You went to a matinee on a whim during the day. One of my favorite things.
    2. Your insight into the message of this movie is just perfect. Did you take notes the entire time? I hope not, unless you have a lot more focus [and better eyesight] than I do!!

    I am going to rent this as soon as I can. It may be in Richmond, but it will NEVER be shown here.


  7. The Gulf Foxtrot and I caught it last week. I loved it.

    The ending was moving to me in a way I didn’t think possible. And the sadness of the company being destroyed at the same time as the party was going on was very well done by the film makers.

    Lastly, the comparison to the “crap” of a heavily licensed Pierre Cardin to a similar fate of Valentino without Valentino shows how utterly bottom line everything is today.

  8. I believe that it was his family’s money. His mother did live with him for many years, surrounded by luxury. In re-reading the article, I think that he managed to close the Paris shop and avoid bankruptcy.

  9. SWF, I was going to append a photo of one of the new young designers as a counterpoint to Valentino’s elegance. I decided to save it for a future post… .

  10. Tintin, unlike any documentary that I have seen before. I attribute it to the marketing manipulation genius of “Vanity Fair” who were involved in the production. That bottom line mentality is poisonous to creativity. But so necessary in business. It’s a tough combination to make work. Which is why Giancarlo kept the world at bay to let Valentino do his thing.

    Cardin … it became as unappealing as wearing a Playboy bunny logo (full disclosure, I do have several bunny head swizzle sticks….)

  11. I shall certainly try to see this when it opens over here. Interesting debate about short-sleeved shirts. I’m generally anti, but we usually go to Italy in the summer, and the man in my life feels the heat. I recently bought him a short-sleeved white shirt in a linen/cotton fabric. With light khaki or beige cotton trousers and some brown Italian loafers I think he will look pretty cool.I agree though, Mr E, short sleeves with a tie are an abomination.

  12. Love this! I tried to see it in Chicago, but missed it… now since you say you saw it in the theater, I’m going to check again for a big screen showing. Thanks!

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