As any creative person can tell you, the hardest part of any project is often finding the right people to help you bring your vision to life. Mr. Valentino was faced with that task as he prepared his new book, At the Emperor’s Table. Who should take the photographs of all those sumptuous meals and interiors? The answer was obvious: The best person, only the very best. And so renowned shelter/lifestyle lensman Oberto Gili was invited on board. And as for who should write the introduction to At the Emperor’s Table, Mr. Valentino says it wasn’t a difficult choice at all. “It was clear to me that Andre should write [it],” he asserts, speaking of fashion eminence grise Andre Leon Talley. “He is a beautiful writer, a wonderful friend, and he has been a guest many times in my homes.”
Talley’s introduction repays those compliments, and more. One of the words he uses to describe Mr. Valentino’s sensibility as a host is “simplicity”—a surprising choice, perhaps, given that the Valentino aesthetic is nothing if not maximal in its layering of beauty upon beauty. “Chic simplicity is what Mr. Valentino advocates, in the very refusal to follow trends, the refusal to abandon his verities, his true, European standards of correctness,” Talley explain. “Chic is elegance…and true chic is nothing more than personal elegance, edited, vetted and constantly striving for personal perfection.”
Talley’s memories of his first Valentino meal loom large in his memory. “It may have been in Rome, lunch at Valentino’s villa, with huge beautiful Botero ladies, fat, red, plump, in Valentino couture dresses,” he recalls. “Yes, it was Botero and his Michelin muses, dressed in Valentino couture, that were on the walls. The food of course was fantastic,” Talley continues, “but it was also the atmosphere, the way you might see it in a Visconti film, total sense of astonishment, in the layerings of antique furniture, flowers, linens, his collection of beautiful objects.”
Photographer Gili, meanwhile, had to recreate—and capture--that heady atmosphere for each of his shoots at Mr. Valentino’s residences worldwide. The word he uses to describe Mr. Valentino’s approach is “harmony”—a seamless, transporting synthesis of umpteen details.
“There isn’t one specific detail that stands out, but it’s how everything is done with intention, and comes together so effortlessly,” Gili notes. “For example, his collection of china, silver and porcelain—it is amazing. When you walk into a room, the presentation of the table as a whole makes you pauses for a moment to take it all in. Then,” he goes on, “when you sit, it’s all about the details: the stroke of paint on the plates, the stitches on the linens, the shine of the silver. The way the tables are set is a song to beauty.”