“It’s the end of an era,” director Matt Tyrnauer said while introducing Valentino: The Last Emperor during its opening night at the Film Forum Wednesday. While the statement may seem a bit extreme (especially coming from a young director obviously intent on promoting his debut film), it’s anything but. As you’ve likely heard, the documentary in question follows the iconic designer as he celebrates the 45th anniversary of his namesake fashion house, faces the brand’s being sold off to an outside party, and, eventually, announces his retirement. While the film is well worth watching regardless of ones interest in fashion—it’s chock-full of comic relief, intimately human moments, and plenty of celebrities—altogether the documentary touches on something immensely historically significant: the end of the era of couture.
“Compared to us everyone else is making rags,” Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld tells Valentino in the film. While the former is still working in a couture industry that has managed to survive both economic collapse and a global push towards democratic and diffusion fashion, the era in which Valentino’s career flourished is slowly but surely coming to a close. “To do this embroidery today, you would need to sell the Italian bank,” Valentino says, stroking pieces he crafted in the 50s and 60s. And, if that’s not enough to incite your interest, there’s plenty of pug action, and a particularly cringe-worthy moment involving Valentino being, finally, just too tan.