I have always had a hard time wrapping my head around the notion of why it was so damn difficult to come out of the closet if you were a successful fashion designer. It is similar to denying being gay as a chorus boy, event planner or professional figure skater.
It’s no surprise that of the many great gay fashion designers who have chosen to be open about their gayness: Marc Jacobs, Gianni Versace, Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, it would be Valentino who would be the last to come out of that closet. It never was the way it worked for this designer who burst on the fashion scene in 1959 and quickly established himself as the favorite of the ladies who lunch.
The “secret that is not a secret”, is what Valentino’s partner in business and in life for 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti, called it.
In July 1960, Valentino met young Giammetti at the Café de Paris in Rome and they have rarely been apart since. Giammetti claims if you added up the days they have spent apart since meeting, it amounts to only two months. It is by all accounts, a testy, yet affectionate relationship. Giammetti had run the business side of Valentino’s fashion house until their retirement in 2008.
“Ours is not a story of money or fashion. It was a story of love. There has never been an article about us in this sense. I think the world has changed a lot and that once it would have been embarrassing to read but it’s not anymore.“
“Giancarlo and I understand each other, but his character is the opposite of mine. There are only three things that I know how to do: make a dress, decorate a house and receive guests …“
“We were lovers for 22 years. Now it’s a fraternal love, a relationship with nothing sexual in it. Yet a great love remains, ancient, surviving.“
Although they are open about being gay, Valentino and Giammetti are prudish in their perceptions. Bruce Hoeksema, Valentino’s current boyfriend and assistant for the past 25 years:
“When Giancarlo sees amale couple kissing in a restaurant he says, ‘Disgusting!’. If he sees two men holding hands on the street, he yells out ‘Queers!’.“
Mostly retired from designing for his Valentino label, he still works on special commissions. He designed Anne Hathaway‘s wedding dress in 2012 and, more recently, the bridal gown of Princess Madeleine of Sweden in June 2013.
Yesterday afternoon, when I should have been directing my own staff working in the garden, I caught Matt Tyrnauer‘s extremely engaging, often hilarious documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) on Netflix. Watching the diminutive, grandly coiffed, hidden-eyed, orange-tinted, ill-tempered, impatient absolute despot Valentino was like enjoying chocolate and Cognac until that instant comes when you find that you are queasy from having consumed too much richness.
Although Giammetti and Valentino broke-up in 1972, they live together in a sort of big extended family along with boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, ex-boyfriends’ wives and children, assorted minor European royalty, hangers-on and lackeys.
We must have lots of things in common; we are, after all, gay men of a certain age. Let’s see: Valentino travels exclusively on his own airplane and yachts with a full entourage; I ride a bike. He owns extraordinary homes in Rome, London, Manhattan, Gstaad, Tuscany and a castle in the countryside outside of Paris; I live a bungalow in Portland, Oregon. One of the very few things we actually have in common: Valentino adores dogs. He named a second line of designer clothing for canines after his late pug Oliver. Today Valentino has piles of pugs: Molly, Milton, Monty, Margot, Maude and Maggie. When traveling on his 14-seat jet, three cars are needed to move Valentino and his pack to and from the airport: one to move Valentino and his boyfriend, another for the luggage and the staff, and one to transport the pugs. I make my terriers carry their own poop-bags.