We loved this interview conducted by John Heilpern so much that we decided to run it in full. Its a fascinating glimpse into the persona behind the newest fashion tome to hit bookshelves everywhere! Enjoy!
For 45 years the power behind the Valentino fashion empire, alongside Valentino Garavani—was unavoidably delayed cruising round the Aegean when I arrived for lunch at his penthouse in Manhattan, which is one of his five homes. But thanks to the wonders of Skype, we enjoyed our lunch together just the same.
“Can you hear me, John?” he asked, inaugurating my first “Out to Skype” from Valentino’s yacht midst windy seas.
“I can hear you,” I said. “How’re you doing, Giancarlo?”
“I don’t see you very well, John.”
He is a man known to leave nothing to chance, however. A computer expert fixed the picture on my end, while no less than three lovely ladies and his housekeeper fussed over me as a selection of William Poll gourmet sandwiches was placed before me, along with cherries, blackberries, chocolates, and a choice of wine.
Mr. Giammetti, strikingly handsome, tanned, and poised, was having a late lunch on the yacht, T.M. Blue One (which has a staff of 11), and he sweetly held up his plate so that I could see it clearly—shrimp salad and a glass of Brunello di Montalcino. He was sailing, he told me, with Valentino and members of their extended family, whom he calls “the tribe.”
Valentino: The Last Emperor, directed by Matt Tyrnauer (a contributing editor at this magazine), presents a remarkable backstage view of their rarefied world, but until I read Mr. Giammetti’s memoir, Private (published by Assouline this month), I hadn’t realized that he and Valentino had stopped being lovers more than 40 years ago. “You became inseparable blood brothers?” I asked.
“I was just 30 when the physical part of our relationship ended, and it was difficult in the beginning,” he explained. “We had to solve problems with jealousy. But we’re all grown up—very grown up—and we know that time solves every problem. We’ve always wanted to be the best for the other. But, you know, from the beginning Valentino and I never lived together.”
“That’s probably why your love for each other lasted.”
“Exactly! We want our freedom. We want to be able to close our doors.”
Giancarlo Giammetti is a man of natural charm whose English has improved over the years. When he first met the supermodel Jerry Hall in Rome (before she married Mick Jagger), she told him that she came from Texas, where she was a cowgirl—which he heard as “call girl.” “I was really shocked,” he explained, starting to laugh. “So I very shyly ask whether she arranged to meet her clients by phone or in person. She say, ‘What clients?’ I say, ‘You say you are a call girl.’ And she say, ‘No, no, no! I am a cowgirl!’ We became great friends.”
In the 1980s, Valentino was among the first fashion houses to license merchandise in Japan. “I can’t resist mentioning this,” I said. “How could such an elegant label as yours sell Valentino toilet seats?”
“Just one word,” he replied. “Money.”
“Were they hard to design?” I asked.
He laughed again. “No, I will say that.”
The licensing deals Mr. Giammetti made in Japan were worth many millions. “But the toilet seat didn’t destroy the name of Valentino,” he added.
Merchandise sales subsidize the haute couture collections, just as museum stores help support the art. But are fashionable clothes—rather than accessories and fragrances—the point any longer in what Giancarlo calls “a corporate game run by luxury titans”?
“It’s true the hot company is the accessories company—but a label like Louis Vuitton is still very important in fashion. And 60 to 65 percent of the profits of Valentino, owned today by the Qatar royal family, still come from the clothes. So I think the combination can exist.”
“But, amidst the ruling conglomerates like LVMH,” I suggested, “only a handful of independent fashion houses like Armani or Ralph Lauren still survive. We can no longer be certain who the designers actually are.”
“Yes, but I think women no longer need designers to decide what they want to wear! Before, they were waiting for Givenchy, Dior, or Valentino to decide the dress, the shoes, the bag, for them. But if they like the dress, they like the dress! I think it’s a good thing. It gives women a lot of freedom.”
“What ever happened to style?” I asked, reminding him of red-carpet disasters and hobo-chic celebs dressing democratically, unglamorously down.
“It’s a different style,” he responded, “and it’s a different—how you say?—moment. You cannot fight it. One of the biggest changes in today’s fashion is the influence of stylists. There used to be much more involvement when a star chose a dress. But today’s superstars and celebrities are offered so many clothes to wear, they’re spoiled. There’s no commitment involved, no work, no fittings. They wear the dress and it has a short life. They don’t have time to love a dress.”
And so my “Out to Skype” with Giancarlo Giammetti came to a close. “Thanks so much for lunch,” I said. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your cruise.”
“Nice talking to you, John. Bye-bye.”
Source: Vanity Fair.