Valentino’s Dolce Vita
BY Michael Joseph Gross
February 02 2009 1:00 AM ET
Tyrnauer’s refreshingly old-fashioned reporting technique is nourished by what seems to be a carefully guarded sense of himself as, if not an outsider, then always one banquette away from being truly in the room. “You’re entering people’s lives, and their lives are not yours,” he says. “Unless you’re some sort of society journalist or a titled person who wants to work, you’re in the position of being an interloper -- I’m talking about the Vanity Fair world -- and you see a lot and experience a lot, and you have to be comfortable with leaving. I love that. I love coming and going.”
This helps account for his extraordinary talent for depicting influential people in the twilight of their careers, which reaches its fullest expression so far in Valentino: The Last Emperor. Among the film’s riches is its astringent portrayal of the rapidly changing business of fashion. During the two years Tyrnauer spent making the documentary, Valentino’s company was taken over by investors who, as the film depicts, have no interest in anything but the bottom line. The seamstresses in Valentino’s studio, who stitch every garment entirely by hand, are practicing an art that “will not happen much longer,” Tyrnauer says. “It will go away. It’s certainly the last link to la dolce vita. It can be there for 50 years, but it’s ephemeral, and when it goes, it goes in a minute.”
On our way out of the restaurant, at the coat-check booth, Tyrnauer approaches John Fairchild and says, “Matt Tyrnauer. Good to see you.” Shaking hands, Fairchild’s expression is affable and inscrutable, a practiced but awkward social grace that could be read as anything from recognition to indulgence. Neither man seems much invested in the gesture, but both seem satisfied by having gone through the motion, and the gilt and mirrored dining room is almost empty as Tyrnauer walks, umbrella-less, into a light afternoon rain.
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