Valentino Garavani -- fashion designer, collector, friend of the stars and legendary host -- is releasing a book on the art of entertaining well and living beautifully, titled "Valentino: At the Emperor's Table." It's a coffee table-worthy tome filled with photos of elaborate but tasteful table settings and light Italian food recipes (kamut pasta with tomato sauce, sugarless soufflés), with a celebratory foreword from former Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley.
As part of his promotional tour for the book, Valentino and his longtime friend and business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, invited a group of online editors over to the latter's Manhattan apartment for an hour-long chat last Wednesday. (It was billed as a tea, but few touched anything other than the water glasses.) Valentino, dressed smartly but comfortably in a gray striped suit with jeweled cuffs, was joined by Talley in a floor-length burgundy cape and, if I'm not mistaken, black Ugg boots.
Valentino has thrown many famous parties over the years -- his most impressive was undoubtedly the one he threw for 500 people in Rome to commemorate his house's 45th anniversary in 2007 -- but none has received quite the global attention of the lunch he threw for Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on the afternoon before their wedding. At the time, I was curious as to how that lunch came about -- Valentino and Kardashian had not previously been linked in the press -- and Talley, unprompted, satisfied that curiosity, bringing up the lunch three times during the hour.
According to Talley, Valentino met Kardashian briefly at the Met Ball on May 5. Kardashian, he said, was "so respectful" and Valentino was delighted with her, and mentioned afterward that he wanted to throw her a lunch for her wedding. When Kardashian heard, she gushed. "'Oh my god! Valentino! I'd die! Oh my god. Of course want to have this lunch!'" On the 19th, the lunch was announced in the New York Post; it took place at Valentino's chateau outside of Paris four days later.
By Valentino's standards, the lunch was not large: Two tables of 10, which started at 1 and ended at 3:30 (with plenty of time for pictures). But West and Kardashian, Talley said, "had never seen such luxury." And those head-to-toe Valentino ensembles? Talley says the day before the lunch, "the whole family went to the Valentino boutique and bought and paid for every single outfit of every single member of the family, including Kim's grandmother. They had full-on Valentino, including Kanye." It's an impressive detail (not least because those garments were amazingly well-tailored for having been picked off the rack the day before).
Here's what else we learned about Valentino:
- He collects rare salt thrones -- throne-shaped salt cellars produced in Russia between 1945 and 1917. He has a collection of almost 70, which he acquires mostly through auction houses like Christie's.
- He never brings a hostess gift to a party; he sends flowers as a thank you the next day. He prefers that his guests not bring a present to his lunches or dinners, "because I never know where to put it."
- When he is arranging a table, he always seats the oldest person, if she is a woman, or his oldest friend, on his immediate right. "After that you distribute all the people according to the importance of what they are." He does not seat couples together. "American couples, [whether] they are married or they are engaged, they always want to be together… [which is] not nice to make conversation." Fair enough.
- He has a beautiful table and good food whether he is dining alone or with 30.
- His diet is mostly vegetarian, and he believes that eating healthily is the key to a good life. He abstains from red meat and prefers to have a light dinner at 7 o'clock, no later.
- He loves beautiful things and he likes to share them, but he does not do it to show off. "It's not because I want to impress the bourgeois."
Valentino's latest book from Assouline, "Valentino: At the Emperor's Table," is available for purchase on Amazon.