Monday, April 13, 2009

Lessons From Valentino

As you know if you follow this blog, my musings can run the gamut from a discussion of a book as powerful and thought provoking as The Blue Sweater to my affection for Dancing with the Stars. So it will not surprise you that yesterday I went to see the feature length documentary, Valentino, the Last Emperor.
For those not up on their fashion, the “Emperor” being referred to is Valentino Clemente Ludonco Garavani, better known simply as Valentino, legendary fashion designer.

Much of what I expected I got, a visually captivating retrospective of the work of a man who is arguably the last of the great haute couture designers.

The term ‘haute couture’ is literally French for ‘high sewing’. And if you were ever wondering what the fuss about this type of fashion is compared with ready to wear, you need only see the movie. The painstaking time and attention to hand sewing every sequin and thread of these custom fitted creations is truly an art form.

I was surprised by a few things. One was how utterly charming and funny Valentino is. But even more so, I was surprised that there was yet another message in this ode to a brilliant artist straight from the Universe about what true passion can produce.

The multi million dollar empire that Valentino created with his partner Giancarlo Giammetti was born out of two things. One was Valentino’s passion and talent for creating beautiful dresses for women. The second was Giammetti’s entrepreneurial genius. At one point in the film Giammetti speaks of the simple business plan they began with, selling dresses women wanted to wear.

As you watch you see how the success of a combination of passion, talent and thinking out of the box entrepreneurial smarts had to adapt as the business side of fashion changed and that now recurring theme emerged, that of business based on the bottom line first and all else second.

Even if fashion is not your thing you cannot help but be struck by the artisan of what Valentino’s world was. The attention to detail, the care, the desire to create something that could captivate even those who might never wear a Valentino original, but would search the racks for the dress that was copied from it. From that extraordinary talent an entrepreneurial success was created, so much so that one of those big corporations wanted to buy it. And thus a business whose once paramount concern was with creating great design became more concerned with a great stock price.

I left the theater a little sad wondering what will happen to the iconic brand now that Valentino is retired, if another can duplicate his enthusiasm and zeal in today's cost cutting environment. But mostly I was inspired and reminded of what a great passion and a willingness to think differently can produce if one is willing to go for it.

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