Valentino's guide to entertaining
From his superyacht to his French chateau, Valentino dresses his dining tables with as much care as he did the world?s most stylish women. He talks exclusively to Luxury and reveals his tips for haute hospitality
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By Stephen Doig
December 08, 2014
"I have always said that I know how to do two things; I can create a beautiful dress and a beautiful table. I’m not very good at anything else," says Valentino Garavani, somewhat humbly. The couturier, who retired from his namesake fashion house after 45 years as the undisputed emperor of fashion in 2008, has a reputation for carrying his exacting eye all the way from the toiles and gazar of the atelier to the mille-feuille and napkin folds of the dining table. It stands to reason that a man whose lifestyle has taken on such mythic proportion (the houses, the pugs in their private jet seats, the old-world sense of grandeur and refinement) should harness a particular finesse for entertaining. Which is why his new book Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table, published by Assouline, is an ode to dining, drinking and décor.
"A lot of books have been done on my dresses, on my houses, so why not do one on my table?", says Valentino. ‘There is less hysteria about a table and a dinner than a dress, that’s for sure.’ Convinced by Prosper and Martine Assouline to throw open his doors and allow photographer Oberto Gili to capture the gleaming silverware, iridescent glasses, curved tendrils on the calligraphed place settings and ornate decoration of his homes, from his Gstaad chalet to the opulent, enchanting Château de Wideville (former home of one of Louis XIV’s mistresses), the book captures the scene setting that goes into a Valentino social occasion, alongside the maestro’s favourite recipes. To toast the festive season, here Valentino offers his reflections on how to host in impeccable style.
VALENTINO’S RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Get the mix right
"You should never invite people who don’t bring something different to the table, quite literally. Bring in people from other disciplines – from actors to footballer players, writers to bankers. You have to mix things up."
Set the scene
"Collecting china is one of my great passions. I like pieces that are old, important and simple. I used to be crazy for Russian china, and have a dealer in New York who sources this for me. I love Irish glass because it’s light and emits a soft yellow glow. In terms of linen, years ago I had the atelier who embroidered my gowns recreate those patterns onto cloth, all made in Italy. There’s a shop in London called Guinevere that is good for napkins; I like big napkins in dusty pink shades."
"When I see those people hanging around outside a restaurant, shivering in little dresses in the cold; well, it’s the most depressing view ever. There are certain rules that should apply to the table, and not jumping up to smoke after each course is one of them. I was recently at a dinner for 12; we ended up just four of us sitting at table, with everyone else outside smoking. I think this is terrible. You can resist smoking for the length of a dinner."
Check the tech
"No one in my house is allowed to have a telephone ring at the table, but of course there are always texts, notifications, etc. Phones are dreadful at the table; someone might be telling you about their son and suddenly there’s a picture in front of your face, there’s the Instagram photos, the photos of the dog, the boyfriend. I can hardly send a text, can you imagine me on Instagram? No. Technology at the table makes guests feel isolated; with two people hunched over in the corner looking at photos or showing off a new app and excluding others. It’s upsetting."
"Sometimes it’s nice to have someone waiting for your guests with a tray of cocktails, all dressed up and beautiful, but I think it’s more civilised to wait and ask what they would like to drink. I like the classic, old-fashioned way, with one of the staff of the house asking for your order instead of just handing you a glass. During the meal, it’s always a simple red or white, and I never change the wine during the meal no matter what is served."
Dress for the occasion
"You see these people when you are on holiday in a restaurant in a T-shirt or swimming costume; my God, there’s nothing worse. Of course, dress codes depend on the situation. Sometimes it’s a black-tie occasion, sometimes it’s more relaxed, but a person should always be proper."
"This is the time to unleash a touch of extravagance; it’s a time for opulence. People are celebrating and your entertaining should reflect that. In Italian families, it’s often the one time of the year when you can all gather around a table so the setting should be the most glamorous, you must take more care over what is around the dining room. At my home in the mountains, I have a flock of Meissen porcelain sheep on the table. The décor for the tree should be reflected on the table."
Most memorable gatherings
"It’s rare that someone remembers every detail of a meal; what I remember is the people, the mixing, the home, the light, the life. Diana Vreeland knew how to mix people. She threw a dinner for me and Giancarlo once. It was at her apartment in Park Avenue in her amazing red oriental chintz room; red floral-print fabric on sofas, walls, cushions, pillars – you were surrounded by beautiful pattern. No one was sitting formally around a table; instead, guests including Sophia Loren, Barbara Streisand and Jackie Kennedy, were all scattered on benches, chairs and sofas, which made for a very cosy occasion. I learned from a lot of wonderful women – and men – the art of receiving guests in your home, how to entertain, what to serve. I learned from their amazing taste."
Ode to a departed friend
"A lot of the people I learned from are sadly no longer with us and among the most amazing was my great friend Oscar de la Renta, who passed away this year. Along with his first wife Françoise and second wife Annette, he really was the host with the absolute most. Oscar was one of the few Americans who preferred to spend on a good chef rather than art; dining at his home was an incredible experience."
Dream dinner companion
"I’d like to have dinner with Queen Elizabeth. I’ve been to Buckingham Palace, but what I’d like is a small, private dinner where we could talk candidly. I would have loved to have met and enjoyed conversation with Jean Cocteau too. I recently sat with Nick Clegg and his wife at a dinner and found them very good people."
The importance of the invitation
"Of course, RSVP depends on the occasion, but it’s rude not to respond. Today nothing is done by paper, everything is email, but one used to send out a Save The Date and the actual invite. Always RSVP; it avoids confusion."
Letters of note
"I have a calligrapher in every country where I have home. For certain events, you want the place cards and the invites to look a certain way, to set the mood and tone. When I hosted the 2012 Love Ball with Natalia Vodianova at Wideville, the theme was ‘fairytale’ so the writing was very ornate, lots of swirls and romance. But sometimes it’s nice to have an elegant script written in a modern way."
Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table, with an introduction by André Leon Talley and photographs by Oberto Gili, is published by Assouline, £94