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Originally published May 7, 2009 at 3:32 PM | Page modified May 7, 2009 at 3:34 PM

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Movie review

A one-of-a-kind portrait of one-of-a-kind designer Valentino

Filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer's frothily entertaining documentary, "Valentino: The Last Emperor," about the Italian master of haute couture lets us rub shoulders with the ultra-fashionable. It's playing at Seattle's Pacific Place. A review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Valentino: The Last Emperor,"a documentary directed by Matt Tyrnauer. 96 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Pacific Place.

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"An evening dress that reveals a woman's ankles when she is walking is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen," says the designer Valentino, with an audible shudder. "Valentino: The Last Emperor," Matt Tyrnauer's frothily entertaining documentary, is full of such pronouncements, uttered with the kind of certainty known only by those who are never contradicted. Earlier in the film, in the heat of a spirited argument about chignons (Mr. V is pro, the hairdresser engaged for a fashion show is con), Valentine's longtime business (and life) partner Giancarlo Giammatti rolls his eyes. "Mamma mia," he sighs. "It gets worse every day."

Such is life with the Last Emperor — the great Italian master of haute couture whose retirement in 2007, after nearly half a century in the business, signaled the end of an era. Tyrnauer and his crew followed the elegantly orange-hued Valentino (whose last name is Garavani, though no one ever uses it) and the globe-trotting glamour of his life and numerous homes for two years. The resulting footage lets us rub shoulders with the ultra-fashionable — to attend parties filled with men in perfectly tailored suits and women with expertly wrangled cleavage; to roam the gardens of Valentino's estate outside Paris, so lavish they require 12 year-round groundskeepers; to fly on his jet with his constant retinue of pugs (Milton, Monty, Maude, Margot, Maggie and Molly); to eavesdrop on the two men as they ride home in a limo. (Giammatti to Valentino, in concerned tones: "You look a little bit too tan.")

And we get the great pleasure of watching beautiful gowns come to life, from a pencil sketch to a final fitting, in Valentino's bright atelier in Rome, staffed with temperamental seamstresses who settle for nothing less than perfection — and who sew every stitch by hand. The skirt of a silky white dress, edged with silver, seems to flow like water as its wearer walks, gently rippling in the breeze. The man who created it, and so many others, is matter-of-fact. "I love beauty," he says. "Is not my fault."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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