Giancarlo Giammetti has led a beautiful life. To prove it, the one-time lover and long-time business partner of Valentino Garavani, who jet-setted and yachted with rock and movie stars, royalty and the world’s top socialites, amassed an archive of over 57,000 photographs. Fortunately for us, he’s edited them into a 400-page, twelve-pound behemoth of an autobiography titled PRIVATE.
I phone Giammetti at his home in New York, and like everything else in this handsome man’s life, even his on-hold music is beautiful and elegant—Gogol, a haunting piece by pianist Chilly Gonzales. Giammetti’s deep and raspier-than-usual Italian-accented voice breaks in: “Hello. How are you? I’m sorry, but I have a terrible cold, so my voice comes and goes.”
In the early 60s, Giammetti, who took Valentino’s fledgling one-man fashion company and reimagined it into a monster brand, is now retired…or, as he so poetically phrases it, “I am in the business of retirement as my occupation.”
Giammetti meticulously whittled his enormous photo archive down to the 500 or so published images. His favorite is a photo of Valentino talking with Diana Vreeland, the editor of Vogue at the time. “It’s a tender moment for me because it marked the beginning of our career. It must have been ’64. Our English—especially for Valentino—wasn’t great. And Diana had her own way of speaking, which also wasn’t easy to understand. You can see from the face of Valentino, his eyes looking up, that he’s probably not understanding a word. He’s thinking, ‘What is she saying? What am I going to answer?’”
Obviously, not everyone made the book’s cut, so I ask if there were any hurt feelings. “Yes, I’ve had some difficulty—even just today. But my book is not a Wikipedia of society, so if you’re not in the book, it doesn’t mean you aren’t in my memory. My book is also not about nostalgia or regretting. Of course I felt some emotion, particularly because of people who are not here anymore or moments that were not happy.”
PRIVATE is filled with the most elegant and fashionable women from all generations. “All those ladies of the 60s, like Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy—they were all symbols of a very special elegance. Nan Kempner later on. They would always think about what they were going to wear: the perfect shoes, the perfect bag, the perfect clothes—and all in haute couture. Then there was the elegance of the 70s, where women would no longer buy an outfit from one designer from head to toe. Today, the woman has much more freedom in what she can wear. This is the new elegance.”
Ironically, for a man whose life has been so robust, his most memorable moment is one of death—the funeral of Pope Giovanni Paolo II in 2005. His voice perks up when he talks about it. “This was one of the most amazing, amazing occasions. I don’t even talk about it in the book. It was a very bright day in Rome in the Piazza San Pietro. Every religious leader was there. There were all these amazing colors of a thousand cardinals, and there was a book on the casket. Suddenly the pages of the book started to move from the wind— it was like he was giving us all a message. It was amazing!”
As for a sequel, and whom1 he’d like in it: “If there should be another, I don’t really care very much about photographing anyone from this Facebook generation. I leave this to Mr. Graydon Carter,” he says jokingly.
Giammetti was only 22, and Valentino 28, when the two met at the Café de Paris on July 31, 1960, and they still see each other every day. After all these years, not only is his undying devotion, loyalty and love for Valentino evident in PRIVATE, but also in the gratitude he expresses. “Without Valentino I wouldn’t do what I’ve done. Without Valentino I wouldn’t be who I am. And without Valentino we wouldn’t be talking at this moment. He’s my friend, my brother, call him as you will—he’s everything if nothing else.”
PRIVATE by Giancarlo Giammetti, published by Assouline, $250, assouline.com