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Film reveals the ups and downs of Valentino's love life

To those who can afford his designer creations, Valentino is a fashion deity: the last genuine haute couturier, whose classical garments have adorned and been adored by socialites and celebrities of the calibre of Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman.

The 76-year-old Italian fashion designer yesterday visited the Venice Film Festival to address fans and journalists at the premiere of a warts-and-all documentary about his life and career.

Valentino: The Last Emperor charts the designer's 50-year career and, in its most revealing moments, chronicles for the first time the peaks and troughs of his relationship with his long-term companion and business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti.

Valentino was filmed crying and bickering with Mr Giammetti, who said the couple wished the arguments had been cut from the final reel: "There are many things in the movie both Valentino and I would prefer not to see in that situation but they were left in."

The designer, who walked up the red carpet with Eva Herzigova, added: "I wanted to show myself as I am. I couldn't care less about the camera."

Aside from the two men's occasional disagreements – including one in which they accuse each other of being fat – Mr Giammetti said the film was as much a documentary about fashion as it was "a story of love".

The picture was directed by Vanity Fair's special correspondent, Matt Tyrnauer. "When we screened all the raw footage before starting to edit," the auteur said, "we were pleased to find we had more than a fashion movie on our hands."

Born Valentino Garavani in Lombardy in 1932, he met Mr Giammetti in 1963 after returning to Italy from Paris. Since then, the two men have been nearly inseparable, spending only two months outside of each other's company in half a century.

Valentino: The Last Emperor received a standing ovation at yesterday's first screening from a crowd of high-profile models and Hollywood stars who were said to have flown to Venice in his honour. Speaking to fans and journalists afterwards, Valentino said that if he had to choose one crowning moment from five decades of dressing the world's most glamorous women, there was one clear winner: the sight of Julia Roberts in a vintage black and white Valentino gown as she made her tearful 2001 Oscar winning speech for the film Erin Brockovich.

"If I have to try to remember the number of actresses, it would be a very long list," Valentino said. "I have to be very sincere. The person that made me very, very happy, also because she choose vintage, was Julia Roberts, when she got the Academy Award... I was very excited to see her when she appeared with my dress."

Billed as an insight into a world of bygone glamour, the film traces his rise from a teenage apprenticeship in Paris to a run a billion-dollar empire which affords him an imperial lifestyle, pampering his six pet pug dogs (they have their teeth brushed to maintain standards) and throwing celebrity parties at his chateaux and on his staggering yachts.

The film, which was shot over two years, also reveals his behind-the-scenes tantrums and the open hostility between him and the profit-conscious business managers at the fashion house which bears his name. There are hints that it could have been this tension that led Valentino to announce his retirement in 2007 – to the dismay of the fashion industry and only two months after a lavish event in Rome celebrated his contribution to the industry over the decades.