Published: Wednesday January 1, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 10:07:08 PM

Giancarlo Giammetti goes public with private lives

Giancarlo Giametti captures snippets of other people's lives in his book, 'Private'.

Giancarlo Giametti captures snippets of other people's lives in his book, 'Private'.

Valentino’s partner, Giancarlo Giammetti has released a tome filled with images of ‘beautiful people’.

THIS year has been defined by Instagram and the selfie – even before world leaders were caught at Nelson Mandela’s memorial using a smartphone to capture their own images.

Yet the book of the holiday season, lusted after by fashion and society people, is based not on 21st-century technology, but on Polaroid images and happy holiday snaps for an intimate view of high society. Private: Giancarlo Giammetti is a tome, published by Assouline, that weighs about 5.5kg. It also costs US$250 (RM824), which some might consider a bargain, since there are more than 300 illustrations.

Filled with images of those who were once known as the “beautiful people,” the book is an exploration of the upscale life of Giammetti and his partner, Valentino, couturier to royalty and stars. It moves backward and forward in time, from an Italian childhood through 50 years of fashion, with a certain focus on the carefree 1970s.

The appeal of Private is not that the author has made his life public, but that the book is a visual link to a world that has a blue-sky happiness – not least because “the tribe,” as Giammetti calls the Valentino circle of friends, seemed to spend so much time in the sunshine on the Mediterranean waters or on mountains in Gstaad, the Swiss resort town. Even Madonna is caught in the grounds of Valentino’s chateau in France throwing herself on the springy green turf.

When your tribe includes Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor, there is naturally a deep vein of glamour.

And when the principals play host on their yacht, where Gwyneth Paltrow is sunbathing on the deck, Elle Macpherson is posing at the edge of the ocean and Princess Diana’s well-toned legs are making a splash as she dives, the entire book becomes a “celebrity study”, in a world where that expression had not yet been invented.

Giammetti, who now lives in London but is still a globetrotter, has never been in Valentino’s shadow. He has been more of an elegant enabler for the half century since the couple met by chance in a cafe on Via Condotti in Rome in the postwar period.

“I always felt that my life began when I met Valentino,” says the author. He explains in the frank text that at one point their personal relationship broke up, yet the couple’s two mothers remained inseparable friends.

The casual way that the author explains how he coordinated his half century of diaries and 57,000 photos seems hilarious and touching. This life in pictures of friends frolicking was the Valentino/Giancarlo religion.

The book also has a large section detailing the development of the business side and their ongoing battle to equal the power and influence of Yves Saint Laurent. The duo bowed out of the Valentino fashion company after 45 years in 2008, while a movie that year about Valentino became a surprise hit.

“This project is the obvious continuation of the movie,” says Giammetti, referring to Valentino: The Last Emperor, the 2008 documentary by Matt Tyrnauer that lifted the lid on a gilded existence among the Roman studio, shows in Paris and Valentino’s lavishly decorated Wideville French chateau. By contrast, his partner’s homes are modernist, with artists like Francis Bacon on the walls.

The multitude of images and upbeat text are interspersed with intriguing handwritten diary entries, their content struck out if the words are a little too revealing. The details he does include make Giammetti’s story far more than a record of international high life. It is also a peek at an era, before the wide use of digital cameras, when the paparazzi, a word coined in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita, could be kept at bay.

But there is nothing of that movie’s decadence or “farniente” in the images of busy lives at work and play, although Studio 54, New York’s hub of night life in the 1970s, makes an appearance. The tribe also migrates for social events like the marriage of Marisa Berenson in Beverly Hills in 1976 or Elizabeth Hurley’s wedding in India in 2007, for which she urged guests to “dress pink!”

“I cannot detach myself from people who come into my life,” says Giammetti, who can be seen in the book with Anne Hathaway’s parents as Valentino fits the movie star’s wedding dress.

In a face-to-face interview, the author extended the polite references in his book by recalling some moments of emotion. He revealed how in one outing with Elizabeth Taylor she had shut herself in the bathroom to shed a river of tears over a break-up with Richard Burton – but finally gathered her courage to go out and face the paparazzi on the doorstep.

Then there is the sad story behind Paltrow’s 30th birthday party in 2002, when her father became ill and passed away soon after. For most of the images, there is a rollicking freedom, since people knew that their personal sunshine and shadows would remain inside the closed world of a photo album. And Giammetti has hundreds of those. (He did inform friends of the book.)

How did the author feel about going through his past? “I did not feel nostalgia, but emotion, when I think, ‘What happened to him, what happened to her?’ And when I see pictures I say, ‘Dead, dead, dead’ – that’s something I do a lot in the book,” he said.

He also recalls vivid memories that were not caught on camera. For example, the socialite Nan Kempner emerging from a Valentino show shrieking, “I don’t need another dress. I need another body!”

Or the visit to Andy Warhol’s Factory in Manhattan, where the artist appeared “for five seconds” at lunch and then, when Giammetti traced him backstage, was supervising a team urinating on the art works.

Or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in her long period as a book editor at Doubleday, sitting “in a little corner like a secretary or an assistant”. In an image in the book, “Jackie” appears with Valentino striding out with long, bare feet on vacation with her husband, Aristotle Onassis. What has really changed in high society in the Valentino clan’s half century?

Giammetti says that he saw social impact in the past as always connected in some way to birth – but that it is now ruled by money.

But perhaps, even more than the power of wealth, the book shows how the digital camera has become the elephant in the salon, breaking the trust of friendship. As the author puts it: “The book is called Private just because there is no private any more.” – International New York Times

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Giancarlo Giammetti


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