Tea with Mr. Valentino

When I sat in front of Mr. Valentino and the great Andre Leon Talley this week for a tea at a floor-to-ceiling windowed paradise on 58th street, Talley claimed our disease in this day and age is quickness. It was after I’d sped down from uptown like a crazy person, yet I still assumed it was a statement I was somehow separate from. The reality was, it wasn’t. The only other person in the room (besides Talley) separate from it was most likely Mr. Valentino himself. This month, his book At The Emperor’s Table will be published by Assouline, and is a celebration of the incredibly slow, precise, attention to detail Valentino brings to the art of entertaining.

But Mr. Valentino makes it clear that he treats a table at home for one, on a day of no significant importance, the same way he does a gala dinner at the Temple of Venus (the way he celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Valentino brand in 2007). It was a fete, Talley told us, that was his personal favorite of Mr. Valentino’s. It’s because Mr. Valentino loves beautiful things and always has – even when he was making “15,000 francs a year” designing in Paris – that his approach to entertaining is never without an element of grandeur. But it’s not because he wants to impress, it’s simply because he wants to always look at something beautiful.

The tea included many stories: Elizabeth Taylor losing her earring while fighting with Richard Burton; Mr. Valentino leaving his sunglasses at Quo Vadis in New York City (a restaurant sadly not around anymore) at lunch with Jackie Onassis and Diana Vreeland, later receiving them in an envelope with sand in it (Jackie had gone to Martha’s Vineyard); and throwing a lunch for Kim and Kanye in Paris pre-wedding (the entire family came in Valentino, of course).

We of course were most interested in Valentino’s perspective on all things food and entertaining. He’s never eaten a New York hotdog, only sausages, which he no longer eats. Mr. Valentino, like so much of the world, is living a more healthy lifestyle, something he tells us is essential. It would be hard for us to give up red meat, but Valentino made us want to try.  Also according to the designer, eating light in the evening – no later than 7pm – is the way to go. And when it comes to a dinner party faux pas, arguing and screaming at the table is at the top of his list, as is sitting with your significant other, something he says a host/hostess should never condone.

What was the most important thing I learned from the tea? Something us potato-heads have always known; everyone has to eat, and in Mr. Valentino’s case, he’s always eating beautifully.

– Laura Kosann