March 3, 2010

'Valentino: The Last Emperor' and 'The September Issue'

Good timing presented me with the chance to see Valentino: The Last Emperor. My exposure to the fashion industry reminded me that Valentino is best known for his glamourous gowns, especially the infamous red dresses that echo with old Hollywood style.

It's difficult to pass judgement on a man who is only familiar to me through a television screen and magazine pages. I can't say that I enjoyed the movie. The glimmers of runway shows, the design process, and exotic scenery in Italy make the film more bearable, yet it is Valentino's personality that really rubs me the wrong way. To say that Valentino is an egomaniac would be unfair, but it is certainly accurate to say he is a man who is accustomed to getting his own way, and these old habits dictate the fate of the entire fashion house.

A battle between compassion and annoyance takes place as Valentino struggles to remain in control of his empire. His employees and companions alike suffer through his tantrums, extreme sensitivity, and rigorous demands. The film provided glimpses into the Italian fashion industry, but it also reinforced the unfortunate stereotype of a man who is too proud to say thank you.

The September Issue was like a burst of sunshine compared to the Valentino film. Anna Wintour, an enigmatic icon in the American fashion industry, conducts herself with grace and power. She appears as though she is a little girl with her small frame and childlike bob, but there is nothing meek about Anna.

Like Valentino, Anna is also portrayed in a vulnerable light during points of the film. She confesses that her siblings find her work amusing and do not quite understand why she does what she does. Anna cherishes professionalism and dignity, and she knows how act when she finds herself in disagreement with those around her.

The film also showcases Grace Coddington, Anna's right hand. Grace leads the audience to the darker place of VOGUE, where both rejection and stagnancy exist in the forms of lost photos and aborted ideas. Grace and Anna contrast each other well, and their relationship is what makes VOGUE operate so well. Grace, the maternal side, whose warmth and passion are obvious, and Anna, whose dedication and tenacity appear cold at first, but resonate with more power than aloofness, play well together.

Anna immediately captivates her audience in the beginning scene of the film where she explains her stance on the fashion industry.

“I think what I often see is that people are frightened of fashion. And that because it scares them or it makes them insecure, they put it down. On the whole, people that say demeaning things about our world… I think that’s usually because they feel in some ways excluded or, you know, not part of the “cool” group so as a result they just mock it. Just because you like to put on a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress or… I don’t know, a pair of J Brand blue jeans instead of, you know, something basic from KMart, it doesn’t mean that you’re a dumb person. There is something about fashion that can make people very nervous.”

This quote really struck a chord with me, and I think that at some point in the future, I want to expand upon my thoughts, but for now I'll say that Anna does a fine job of not only promoting the importance of fashion but also defending fashion against those who claim it is a superficial and impractical industry.