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Early Days

Giancarlo Giammetti got his first camera when he was twenty-five years old. By the time he started work on Private, the memoir-in-photographs he published in 2013, he had amassed more than 57,000 images. In celebration of Mr. Giammetti's birthday on February 5th, we're devoting this space to a look back at Private. First up: An excerpt from the book's first section, "Early Days," which spans the years from Mr. Giammetti's birth to his chance encounter with a young Valentino Garavani at the Café de Paris in Rome. 


One of Mr. Giammetti's formative experiences was observing the relationship his sister Anna had to her clothes. "I was fascinated by how my sister used to change her outfit several times a day—to the point where she became known for it," Mr. Giammetti writes. "When she was a teenager, her classmates made up a song about her obsession with clothes and performed it at a school talent show."


And once Mr. Giammetti was in school himself, the lesson that "appearances mattered" was driven home to him in other ways. "When I turned six, my parents enrolled me in San Gabriele, the best private boys' school in Rome," he writes. "My mother usually picked me up after class, but when she couldn't, my father would send one of his workers to collect me—on a bicycle. I would sit on the back rack as he pedaled, while all my friends hopped into their fancy cars."


Though you might assume that Mr. Giammetti was destined for a career in fashion, given his youthful attendance on wardrobe and other matters of presentation, as a teen he had his sights set upon the film industry. Natural enough, given that in the 1950s the Italian fashion industry was in its earliest infancy, and meanwhile Rome was home to Cinecitta Studios—"Hollywood on the Tiber"—where classics such as Roman Holiday were shot and where legends of Italian cinema such as Fellini and Visconti made films. At age fifteen, Mr. Giammetti wrote a letter to Luchino Visconti—and much to Mr. Giammetti's surprise, Visconti replied.


"I wrote that my dream was to meet him and become involved in the movie business," Mr. Giammetti recalls. "If I remember correctly, I graciously specified that I didn't necessarily need to be an actor." Though Mr. Giammetti was invited to Luchino Visconti's house in Via Salaria, he wasn't able to meet the film director—at the last moment, he'd stepped out. A career in the movie biz wasn't in the cards for Giancarlo Giammetti. But that's because another meeting, this one to come at the Café de Paris, was his destiny--and alongside Mr. Valentino, he'd create a legacy of glamour to rival anything on the silver screen.


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