The September Issue/Valentino: the Last Emperor
Lights! Music! Strut, strut. Turn, dip, stare. Sell it…sell it…Yes, it’s Fashion Week in New York, and there are two very good (and very different) films that give you the skinny on the high drama of haute couture.
A picture may be worth a thousand words but, in some films, the words of an end scroll can pack an emotional punch that pictures would take too long to reveal. A case in point: Valentino: the Last Emperor. Without creating a spoiler, it is one (and the chief one) of many differences between this Italian emotional blockbuster of a movie and the chilly precincts of Condé Nast, home to most of The September Issue. Both films are partly shot in London, Paris, Rome, even Gstaad, and share some of the same air-kissing players. And both feature frighteningly thin women in frighteningly high heels and jaw-dropping clothes. But that, readers, is just wallpaper. The real news is their two takes on a fashion theme, with big money, bigger egos, and the biggest reputations at stake.
The filmmakers seem to have lots of access to backstage hissy fits. At Condé Nast, they’re pretty much kept under wraps, although there’s enough eloquent eye-rolling and heavy context between the lines to keep viewers speculating on what, exactly, isn’t being shown. Vogue’s Anna Wintour gets her way with looks carved from blocks of ice; a mâitresse de découpage, wielding glances and barbs to slice out fashion’s 840-page bible—“the biggest September issue ever”—of Vogue, 2007 (pre-crash). Valentino, on the other hand, is Italian, so there’s always a little sentiménto just around the corner. It keeps you warm.
Another difference: once the veils are stripped away, you know that Valentino is an artist. If you had any doubts, they are dispelled early on when he wakes from a dream of a perfect white dress. He goes to his desk and draws it, moves on to his atelier and, in a flash of words and gestures, shows and tells the chief precisely how to cut, drape, and stitch the gown entirely by hand. Seeing racks full of his custom-designed masterpieces for fashion royalty takes the breath away. Olympian bling? You betcha!
These are both all eye-candy, all the time, with super cinematography and editing—don’t-miss basics for fashionistas, but priceless as cultural documents for the rest of us. Tears and laughter, vanitas, gravitas. Harbingers of threads to come. For maximum wow, see them close together. And maybe lose a little weight……