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Vogue UK

Suzy Menkes: Emperor Valentino At His Table

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October 29, 2014

By Suzy Menkes


“I hope they have a table too," I joked to Valentino, referring to the pugs who were running around the designer's grand London drawing room, where a library of books fills the walls. We were talking about At the Emperor's Table - the exquisitely presented book that tells you not only how to create "petals" out of tomatoes and to decorate a goat's cheese flan, but also how to offer it to your guests.

And how! On Valentino's tables, sumptuous platters, priceless Russian Imperial china and snow-white Meissen swans dress up the art of eating in Valentino's various homes

But before we go on to the discussion about which china is most suited to a Swiss chalet in Gstaad, which for the New York pied-a-terre and which for the boat as it sails into Capri, Valentino was taking my question about the pug's dietary requirements very seriously (I believe we were referring to Maud)

He led me into an adjacent room where, in front of a glowing fireplace, stood a small table. "It's Lalanne," said Valentino, referring to the sculptors of nature. "And the nuts on top are there for the pugs."

I have had the good fortune to dine at Valentino's tables, especially at Wideville, his chateau outside Paris, where I see in my mind's eye the copious beds of roses, a stretch of lavender as far as the eye can see and the little grotto at the end of the long lawn

I have eaten dinner laid out on long tables for a post-couture celebration along the terrace, and more intimate meals with the crisp blue of Qianlong china that transported me, metaphorically speaking, to the designer's sea-going vessel TM Blue One.

But until we sat down and talked, I had no idea about Valentino's passion for collecting plates, glasses or silver salt cellars  - and his joy at putting them together with the right flowers and even the right serviettes.

"I always love pink and blue napkins - and white, but that is more for a banquet, less cosy or private," says the designer.

If it seems as though Valentino took as much trouble with his couture collections as he did when he chose the china for London's blue dining room and the boat's subtly different blue and white Staffordshire porcelain, set off by mock tortoiseshell cutlery that tones with the passatelli's tomato sauce

The maestro would agree.

"In a certain way, I have put together my relationship between what I did until four years ago and what I did now the for this book,'' Valentino says. "'The idea of the plate is a creation not far from preparing a beautiful evening gown, where I put flowers with a bow and a ruffle. I am finding something to put together on a table top to make it more recherché than a classic, spare table." 

The result is simply sumptuous in this book, published by Maison Assouline, with photographs by Oberto Gili and an introduction by André Leon Talley

You could not possibly describe it as a coffee-table tome. More a champagne glass of a book (the flutes complete with VG monogram for Valentino Garavani). However much one might be tempted to prop up the book in the kitchen for the recipe for a Torta caprese ("Take 300 grams of dark chocolate…"), it might be wiser to snap the instructions first on a smart phone.

But Valentino - who warmly praises his chef Jonathan Surin, "who travels with me all over the world", and the ever-smiling Michael Kelly, his butler, factotum and magical maître d', "who knows my taste better than I do", Valentino does not have his head only in dreams

He also has banished sugar, replacing it with natural sugar alternative, xylitol. And however complex the recipe for Potato and Turbot Timbale, it is nowhere near as heavy as a complete Meissen porcelain dinner service, including figures carrying salt and pepper serving bowls.

Martine and Prosper Assouline used the opportunity of the book launch to celebrate the opening of their first flagship book store on London's Piccadilly.

The Valentino gang included Giancarlo Giammetti (described by Valentino as "my best friend" ) and Carlos Souza, one of the designer's extended fashion family, who suggested the idea. Souza has published a book of his own, Carlos's Places, suggesting where to dine, find beaches, restaurants, and fashion from Capri to Rio. 

Add Hugh Grant, Anne Hathaway and Kylie Minogue to give the London event some celebrity juice.

But this is a book that will surely sell - especially before the holiday season - on its own merits: a chance to sit "at the emperor's table". And to dream.

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