A Dreamer of Beautiful Things: A Conversation with Valentino and Fern Mallis


Review of Fashion Icons: Valentino in Conversation with Fern Mallis

by: Caroline McCauley

What happens when two powerhouses in fashion come together? There’s a drama for domination till death. Case in point, the recent conversation titled “Fashion Icons: Valentino in Conversation with Fern Mallis” was more of tug-of-war game than a lighthearted reflection on the life, or shall I say the “empire,” of Valentino.

The legendary fashion designer and master couturier, Valentino Garavani, most commonly known as Valentino, appeared on the stage of the Kaufmann Concert Hall clad in a black suit with his hair slicked back and a fresh tan (most likely from a recent trip on his yacht). The “lover of beautiful things” was immaculate. Though he didn’t break a sweat or cufflink during the hour-long conversation, there was a blatant battle for control between the two legendary fashion figures.

Fern Mallis, host of the fashion-industry talk show “Fashion Insiders with Fern Mallis,” began the talk by presuming to tell Mr. Valentino what he was like, rather than allowing him to tell us himself. Instead of beginning questions regarding the founding of his eponymous fashion house in Rome in the late 1950s or even diving into his design process, Mallis began with describing Valentino’s personality based on his horoscope. Mallis came prepared with a long laundry list of characteristics most commonly associated the Taurus: “You’re very stubborn, but this stubbornness gives you independence;” “You know exactly what you want;” “you’re very excessive and lavish;” “You present lavishly; live lavishly, and surround yourself with beautiful things.” Valentino smiled (barely creating a wrinkle while doing so, the great courtier may have had some recent work done to his own masterpiece) at these typical Taurus trademarks. Mallis’ mention of a Taurus’ excess and lavishness segued way the conversation into the fashion emperor’s spoiled childhood.

“You were very spoiled as a child. You demanded that you had your clothes custom made, and your mother permitted this,” Mallis said.

Valentino conceded, “Yes…yes I was very spoiled.” However, the great courtier only admitted to having his shoes custom design, instead of his entire wardrobe.

The Taurus’ said vice of lavishness turned the conversation to the three-day fashion extravaganza in Rome celebrating the 45th Anniversary of Valentino’s career. The extravaganza included an exhibit at Ara Pacis, gala dinner at the Temple of Venus, and haute couture fashion show staged at Santos Spirito in Sassia complex.

“I wanted to give people something to talk about all summer,” said Valentino.

“You gave something for people to talk about all year and the years after that,” corrected Mallis.

Valentino seemed like the quintessential Taurus, until Mallis noted, “the Taurus is kind, gentle, and patient with his friends.”

“No, I’m not patient.”

Valentino may have been thinking of his curtness with his workers and colleagues that became public with the 2009 documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor.

In reference to the documentary, Valentino said, “It seemed like I was always yelling or screaming for something.”

Valentino blamed most of his short temper on the invasiveness he felt when it was being filmed: “They filmed when I even went to the Loo,” he complained.

This preference for privacy showed during the conversation. The fashion emperor was hesitant to bare all in every question saying to Mallis, “You make me feel naked tonight.”

Valentino kept directing the conversation back to his love of what he called “beautiful things”: “Beauty is very important, I love Beauty; it has always been my religion.” In response to what he disliked and found not beautiful, he responded, “The ugly thing.” He also emphasized his precociousness as a child, and the craving for the fantastical: “I don’t know if I was a normal person. I was always dreaming constantly about everything.”

And it was this odd predilection for a spacious, dream-like state of mind is exactly what turned Valentino Garavani into the LAST EMPEROR.


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