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Icons & Innovators: Giorgio Armani

William Kissel & Lisa Marsh

The Milanese Maestro

In 1977, Giorgio Armani paraded down a Milan fashion runway his version of a business suit: a soft crepe, deconstructed garment with no lining, no padding, and exaggerated dropped shoulders worn with billowy pleated slacks. Instantly, fashion editors and retailers lauded Armani as the architect of something fresh, a new defining silhouette in men’s tailored clothing. Over the next few years, the stiff, full-canvas-lined suits of the time—a style that originated at the turn of the 20th century on London’s Savile Row—slowly gave way to Armani’s more relaxed, contemporary aesthetic that combined luxurious, lightweight fabrics with comfortable cuts and, most of all, sex appeal. Years later, Armani explained to a men’s fashion trade journal that he simply had sought something that did not exist, so he had to make it himself.

Armani’s breakthrough unstructured tailoring became the prototype for a new kind of power dressing quickly adopted by the menswear industry. The Milanese designer, however, continued to evolve the look, modifying it for the 1980 film American Gigolo. Armani outfitted the movie’s star, Richard Gere, in loose suits with natural shoulders, wide armholes, and a slightly lower front button placement that quickly became a global fashion phenomenon. He also incorporated softer, more feminine fabrics such as wool crepe and velvets. “In this way, I broke the code of ‘uniform’ dressing for men,” he said in 2000, when his company celebrated its 25th anniversary. The movie also introduced the designer to the power of Hollywood, with which he has maintained a rewarding relationship—as is evident both on screen and on the red carpet.

Throughout the 1980s, Armani continued to tweak his signature look, making suits and jackets even less fitted and integrating lightweight fabrics. Over the ensuing decade, his quest for maximum comfort yielded wider sleeves, rounded shoulders, longer and wider lapels, and shorter jackets. “You used to have your clothes ironed, you wore them buttoned up; it had all been remembered from one generation to the next and was too consciously designed,” Armani explained. “Now you can be more flexible; you can leave your jacket open, not iron it, not wear anything matching.”

One of the designer’s signature pieces is an elongated knit, cardigan-style jacket that he wore for years before including a variation of it in his 1995 ready-to-wear collection. The jacket’s long, lean profile was the antithesis of Armani’s earlier slouchy silhouette, and its introduction proved to be perfectly timed for changing fashion palates. Slim-fitting knitwear subsequently dominated sportswear, which then was intended to showcase more athletic physiques.
 
“The fluid form that Armani created in the late 1970s and early 1980s became such an icon that people automatically assume the deconstructed jacket is the only vocabulary the designer knows,” says Robert Triefus, head of communications at Giorgio Armani in Milan. “But the bookend to that is the more fitted, constructed suit Armani did for the 2004 movie De-Lovely about the life of Cole Porter.” That movie’s fitted suits served as the basis for his current Giorgio Armani menswear collection, explains Triefus. “It’s about more serious construction, but always using fluid fabrics so a man can move easily.” 
—William Kissel

Private Practice

recognizing that haute couture had become more a matter of theater than serious clothing for real women, Giorgio Armani decided to distance himself from that rarefied world as he developed his first women’s collection in 1976. Instead, he built his brand with a more commercial model.

However, last spring at the Paris runway shows, Armani departed from that strategy and debuted Privé (private in French), his first foray into women’s couture. The fashion collection was an extension of the Privé limited-edition jewelry and fragrances introduced the previous year. Last fall, Armani expanded the collection further with limited-edition home furnishings and 18-karat-gold mechanical watches.
 
“I want to revive a spirit of supreme elegance that we have lost,” explained Armani at the Parisian debut of Armani Privé couture. “This is about offering a very special, personalized service for my best clients,” he said, adding that Privé gives him an opportunity to court an audience who values quality over labels. 
—William Kissel 

 

A World Apart

Armani conveyed his fashion visions for the body to the home in 2000, when he introduced Armani Casa, a collection that now includes furniture, rugs, lighting, linens, tableware, and accessories. He created Armani Casa in the image of his dream environment: a place to unwind and entertain surrounded by beauty and beautiful objects, a cocoon of subtle luxury. Designs are modern, yet they reference ancient cultures. Materials are simple and sumptuous—silk, cashmere, leather, teak, and Murano glass—while decorative accents of shagreen, python, bronze, onyx, and silver transform everyday objects into works of art. Close your eyes, envision the soothing neutral tones of an Armani atmosphere, and you actually might feel the tension evaporate from your body and your heart rate relax.

Building on his domestic endeavors, the designer has formed a partnership with Emaar Hotels & Resorts to develop a series of Armani hotels and resorts. The first Armani property will open in Dubai in 2008 as a part of Emaar’s Burj Dubai project. The hotel’s 175 guest rooms and suites, spa, and restaurant will be appointed completely with Armani creations—from furniture, fixtures, and decorative accents to linens and toiletries. And for those who want to extend their stays indefinitely, Armani will design 160 residential apartments that come fully furnished with Armani Casa pieces created specifically for these homes. It may be the closest one can come to living in an Armani-designed world.  —Lisa Marsh 

Giorgio Armani, 212.988.9191, www.giorgioarmani.com

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Photo by Ted Morrison