Amish and Valentino.

Last night I watched “Valentino the Last Emperor” and the night before I read “Sinful Network of Divine Service: Competing Meanings of the Telephone in Amish County”. As unlikely as it may be, I felt a common tragic thread moving through both, that thread being the preservation of integrity in a world of compromise. Although neither could be more of an opposite from one another, but at the same time they are both so similar in the world in which they exist in. Both exist in a world in which the majority of people don’t understand, nor would know how to function in. Both hold onto a passed down valued and forgotten by most tradition, and both face threat. With “The Last Emperor” we catch a glimpse into the struggle of the lost art of true couture. He is the last couturier, he is in the business of opulence that only a small group of people appreciate and understand, it holds no functionality, and his craft is completely devoid of modern convenience, everything is painstaking, everything is done by the hand of skilled people whose craft is a lost art. The retirement and sale of Valentino is a tragedy understood by very few, the label is now full of commercial handbags, shoes, fragrances, sunglasses, and many other marketable consumer cop-outs. The line in the movie that made me cry was when Karl Lagerfeld said “That is how it should be, in comparison the rest of us are making rags”. then “…don’t retire, I’ll be mad at you forever if you do.” What I think Lagerfeld meant by this, is that Valentino represents an old world integrity to craft and art that doesn’t fall into the temptation of commercial sales and modern conveniences of production, and that his integrity to craft is “how it should be”. It struck me throughout how true Valentino stayed to his vision and how much it hurt him to compromise it to appeal to someone else’s conveniences or agendas. I felt this related very well to Old world of the Amish and Mennonite, and the old order Amish aversion towards adapting the telephone. In the ending of the excerpt that I read, Umble tells that the Old Order remained suspicious of the telephony in their lives, although many of the other members adapted the telephone, just as many of the other couturiers adapted the sewing machine, Valentino’s seamstresses won’t go near it, just as a small group of the Old Order stay clear of the telephone, calling the lines the “tail of the devil”. These members although see the benefits of having this modern convenience aren’t so easily made agent to the modern world. As much as I see change as a good thing, it’s so rare to hear about a group of people staying so true to their identity. Seeing a tacky bottle of mass-made Valentino “rock n’rose” perfume, to me feels a lot, like seeing a cheesy big corporate advertisement in an Amish newspaper. Both are to me represent a small compromise of identity after an initial fight not to become agent to the corporate commercials.

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