Fern Mallis has interviewed a number of legendary figures on stage at the 92Y for her "Fashion Icons" series, from Oscar de la Renta and Bill Cunningham to Bruce Weber and Lauren Hutton. But she truly outdid herself Tuesday evening when she invited Valentino Garavani for a chat, the first non-American designer to speak in the series.
Valentino did not seem accustomed to speaking about his life so intimately ("I'm going to tell you which underwear I'm wearing!" he joked at one point), but he was at times refreshingly honest. Though he said he never felt unsure about his collections -- "I was always preparing my shows with lots of belief, I believed in my dresses so much that every day, every moment backstage, I was always very happy" -- he admitted there was a decade where he did not feel this way: the 1980s, which he found vulgar. "I hated those dresses in the '80s, they were out of proportion with shoulders that didn't belong to the fit, they were all terrible, terrible!" he said. "The shoes were not good — I never liked it."
He has since retired to a life of beautiful things, cared for by an extensive staff (a number of whom attended the talk and were acknowledged by Valentino) and curated in his new book, "Valentino: At the Emperor's Table." While he says there are new designers whom he admires and follows ("They are all good and I don't want to make anybody jealous," he demurred when asked for names), he doesn't miss being a part of that world. "You know, the way we used to work now is more difficult, because life is changing, people work in another way," he said. "What I did and what many other colleagues of mine did doesn't exist anymore."
He was perhaps alluding to the exhaustive nature of the business today, which he touched on while talking about his cameo in the film "The Devil Wears Prada." Already in New York with part of his collection, he hardly had to practice at all to appear on screen with friends Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. "For me it was quite simple to do that scene because I do it eight times a year," he joked. "To be there, to say, 'Hello, how are you, you like the collection?'"
But despite revealing a number of things about his own life, he was still protective of his close relationships. When Mallis asked if Anna Wintour was upset that he appeared in the film, he playfully demurred, intentionally pausing for a long moment before responding, "No, I don't think so."