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BYLINE: Matt Tyrnauer
Giancarlo Giammetti stands at a bar in the terminal of Ciampino Airport, in Rome. He orders an espresso, drinks it quickly, and, as he walks away, makes a discreet motion for his bodyguard to pay. Strikingly handsome with coal-black eyes and a mane of silver hair, Giammetti is dressed in a tan traveling coat, a black suit, black ankle boots, and dark glasses. The 14-seat Challenger jet he will take to Paris idles on the tarmac. Giammetti is a nervous flier, so standing around airports is disagreeable for him. Along with a chef, a majordomo, a valet, two butlers, and a maid, he is waiting for one of Italy's most famous men: Valentino Garavani, a "state power," in Giammetti's words, who has been, over the last four decades, his business partner, onetime boyfriend, alter ego, and closest companion. "The boys," as old friends call them, are among the most successful and wealthiest figures in the world of fashion. "They are the great survivors," says Countess Consuelo Crespi, who, as the Rome-based fashion editor of American Vogue in the early 60s, was present at the creation of their empire, which last year had sales of more than $180 million, with a brand instantly recognized around the globe. "Ah, Valentino and Giancarlo," Crespi continues with a sigh, "the brains of Giancarlo mixed with the talent and determination of Valentino. What a perfect marriage they have had."
As in any marriage, one spouse habitually makes the other wait, and in this relationship the clock runs on Valentino time. Giammetti should be accustomed to it, after 44 years, but this morning I perceive a hint of impatience. His foot taps the tile floor, and he mills about the airless airport lounge, whose glass wall separates him from the group of servants and the ziggurats of luggage waiting to be loaded onto the plane. So many people cooling their heels in anticipation of one man's arrival gives the moment the air of a state occasion-in this case, one orchestrated by Federico Fellini. As Carlos Souza, the designer's longtime P.R. man, says, "Valentino is really the gentleman of the drop-dead entrances of the red carpet." He is referring to the haute couture evening dresses Valentino makes, but I can't help thinking of the man himself when I hear this. Valentino brings a kind of alta moda Roman majesty to every little thing he does. Yet everything runs so smoothly in the Valentino bubble that you hardly realize any planning has gone into the events unfolding before your eyes.
There's a stir at the entrance of the terminal as a silver Mercedes-Benz pulls up, followed by a minivan. Valentino emerges from the car in a Prince of Wales-plaid suit under a shearling coat, with a flowered scarf around his neck, and enters the terminal, walking slightly ahead of his retinue. His tan is rich and close in color to his chestnut-brown hair, which is blown out to immobile perfection. He has a warm smile and bright, heavy-lidded eyes, which are partially hidden behind rose-colored aviators. After he and Giammetti greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, we proceed to the airplane. Three buses are needed, one to move Valentino, Giammetti, and staff, another for luggage, and a third to transport five of Valentino's six pugs-Milton, Maude, Monty, Margot, and Molly.
On the plane Valentino and Giammetti take seats in front, facing each other. The household staff is seated aft, and soon joined by the pugs, which strain their Hermes leashes in an attempt to climb onto Valentino's lap. Giammetti later tells me, "Valentino is embarrassed to be seen traveling with so many dogs. People look at him enough as it is." He often asks his valets to bring the pugs out of the car after he has boarded the plane, sometimes in two shifts so that there seem to be fewer animals.
After takeoff Maude is released by a butler. She runs forward and jumps up on Valentino's lap, but before she can settle in, another staff member appears with a light-blue linen cloth, which he unfurls and places under the dog to minimize the effects of shedding. At lunchtime Maude is returned to her fellow pugs, and a buffet, prepared by Valentino's chef, is brought out. Despite the impeccable presentation, there is a tense moment when Valentino picks up his plate of salmon and scrapes the little wreath of baby greens onto his bread plate. He then carefully re-arranges the salmon in the center of the dish. "I hate the green everywhere," he tells me with a guilty smile. "I like things simple."
To be caught up in Valentino and Giammetti's slipstream of luxury is to feel slightly anesthetized. "Drowsy and happy-it's kind of narcotic," says Joan Juliet Buck, the former editor of French Vogue, who has known the two men since the 1970s. "You feel cozy around them, wondering when they'll bring out the next quail egg. I met them in Rome, when I was at Women's Wear Daily. I'd run into them in the street, and they'd be wearing their loden coats lined in chinchilla, and I'd have these conversations with Valentino: 'Do you think it's too heavy? Does it make me look fat? You know, chinchilla's really not as heavy as mink.' It was another universe. I was conscious that there were people in the world who designed clothes-the other couturiers-but then there was the universe of Valentino and Giancarlo."
A staff of nearly 50 is employed to maintain Valentino's 152-foot yacht and his five homes-a villa in Rome, a town house in London, Chalet Gifferhorn, in Gstaad, a Louis XIII ch,teau near Paris, and a Manhattan apartment. "Mr. Valentino can scan a room without even moving his eyes, and he knows where everything is," says Michael Kelly, the majordomo at Ch,teau de Wideville, near Paris. "I always say to everyone, 'We could leave a pile of dust inside the front door, but if an ashtray's not in the right place, it's that that he'll see and not the dust.' I've worked for a lot of important people, but I've never come across anyone who actually knows everything he has. He'll ring me and say to me, 'Michael, do you remember those blue-and-white plates?' Now, he knows exactly what he's talking about, and he knows exactly where they are, but it's a little test to see if I know. And a reminder. You know: No matter how good you are, I'm still No. 1."
"How could I possibly explain the luxury?" asks Consuelo Crespi. "Yves Saint Laurent has never done this kind of thing. The other great designers have wonderful houses, beautiful things, but you look at Valentino and Giancarlo with their Picassos and Cy Twomblys, all the best quality-how can I say it without being vulgar? It's very difficult."
John Fairchild, editor-at-large at Women's Wear Daily and W, is more direct. "Valentino and Giancarlo are the kings of high living. …