Forty years since he started his business, Giorgio Armani, 81, whose name easily falls off the tongue of an Italian as it does a Korean or Canadian, has his place assured in popular culture.
In the process of celebrating his four decades in fashion this year, the man, who clearly does not believe in resting on his laurels (or retiring, for that matter), has opened an exhibition space — Armani/Silos in Milan — curated by him, published a vast coffee-table book about his life, written by him, and thrown a party or two, hosted by him, of course.
At the opening party of his museum a few months ago, practically all of Hollywood royalty descended. The opening was followed by a big Armani Privé couture fashion show that was a 40-minute catwalk roundup of Armani’s 10-year foray into haute couture, featuring more than 90 looks and 11 themes.
The likes of Cate Blanchett, Tom Cruise, Tina Turner, Leonardo DiCaprio, and dozens more, all dressed in their Armani finest (including some very chic white suits), were on hand to show support for the man who, in no uncertain terms, was a fashion revolutionary.
His inimitable legacy includes putting the trouser suit on women in the 1980s, dressing Richard Gere in Armani in the seminal film American Gigolo, and essentially creating a whole industry out of ready-to-wear.
At the event, Blanchett, who was sporting a chic cream Armani pant suit was quoted as saying, “Over the years I keep returning to the house of Armani because it’s got this extraordinary melange between the masculine and the feminine. I think that’s a line that I enjoy walking, aesthetically.”
Yet while he has been embraced by the entertainment industry and counts Madonna (yes, that cape she was wearing was designed by him) and Lady Gaga amongst his dedicated fans, interestingly and ironically, in his autobiography, he mentioned, “I have built my empire upon the observation of everyday reality.”
Undoubtedly one of the most successful names in fashion, Armani, who reportedly has a net worth estimated at about USD$8 billion, and over 10,000 employees and is chairman of his company, credits “an attentive strategy of brand diversification” to his success. Six collections are designed each season, with catwalk shows for the most prestigious three.
As if wanting to prove he can outdo even himself, Armani also debuted a new women’s collection whose name aptly describes the designer’s long-term impact on the changing rules of style: the New Normal.
Meanwhile, his legacy is now catalogued with precision throughout Armani/Silos. The soaring five-story and 4,500 square metre space, built in a former industrial granary, houses 600 ready-to-wear outfits reaching back to 1980 and 200 accessories, as well as digital archives of Armani’s designs. In line with its exhibit-like purpose, the outfits are grouped by theme rather than chronology.
A website dedicated as a tribute to his career has also been live this past year, with ongoing thematic tributes, along with a short clip. A tribute to denim — #tributetodenim — recounts how Armani launched his jeans line, Armani Jeans, back in 1981, first in Italy then in the United States, sporting a stylized eagle with the designer’s initials as its logo.
With his finger always uncannily on the pulse of things, he chose Grammy Award-winning singer Rihanna – at the time an artist who had sold 30 million albums and 100 million singles worldwide – to be the face of the brand in 2011. And of course, who can forget how he convinced David Beckham to strip down in advertisements for his underwear.
More recently, Armani presented the premiere of the second edition of his Films of City Frames initiative on 12 October in London, in partnership with the 59th BFI London Film Festival. The four films are meant to demonstrate the link between Giorgio Armani and the world of film, through the rich fictional universes built around the Frames of Life collection of eyewear.
In their short films, students tell stories about real-life situations through the looks and emotions of characters as they go about their daily lives, and glasses from the Giorgio Armani Frames of Life collection are the element that unites the stories, by being the main instrument through which the protagonists observe reality, capture feelings and experience life. In each film, the home city of the relevant school forms the backdrop to the narrative, and Rai Cinema oversaw the creation of the films during all stages of production, from the evaluation of the script to editing and postproduction.
This partnership underscores Armani’s continued support of emerging talent in various fields, from fashion to cinema, and the first edition of short films was presented in 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Yet in spite of his immense success in all aspects of the fashion business, in his book, the designer has has modestly credited his greatest achievement as seducing men back to embracing the suit. “I am very proud to have convinced men that a tailored suit is not a costume but a garment that can make you feel stylish and comfortable at the same time,” he muses.