- His clothing is revered by industry heavyweights, true style clique devotees, actors and fashionistas alike.
- His brand is one of the most searched for on Google (4,090,000 globally per month).
- He was the first designer to ban anorexic models from his runway shows.
- Before facebook and youtube premiered runway shows, he was the first designer to broadcast his Privé Spring/Summer 2007 fashion show collection live on the Internet via MSN and Cingular cellular phones.
- He’s collaborated on 5 best sellers music CD compilations with the Italian sound designer Matteo Ceccarini.
Who is Giorgio Armani?
He’s a neatly assembled man, subdued features set beneath bold cobalt eyes in a dark face that is handsome even when scowling.
He’s a billionaire, yet despite all the fame and fortune, he’s also an industry loner, described by family and friends as somewhat serious, somber and very aware of his humble beginnings.
In a 2008 Vanity fair interview, Armani warned from the outset, “Don’t trust appearances”. The grand houses; the servants who, much to his annoyance, dust the dessert plates with cocoa powder; the 20 exercise machines stacked up in his personal gym hard by the ultraviolet tanning equipment; the Oscar winners who wear his gowns and tuxedos on television: all this came late in life. In a sense, too late.
Discovering that one of his rare vacations—to be spent in a six-bedroom villa in Mexico, complete with cook, car, and chauffeur—would cost him $60,000 for the week, private plane included, he gasped. “That much?”
“Mr. Armani, you are rich—enjoy your money,” he was told.
“I know I am rich,” the designer replied. “But still it is difficult for me. When you grow up like I grew up, it is not easy.”
With the unwavering support of his best friend, and one-time lover, Sergio Gaoletti, he pushed his way to the top. Back in an 2000 interview, his sister Rosanna Armani claimed Giorgio always wanted to get ahead. “And he worked all his life to that end.” She worked for him until 1998 and was very happy to retire to a life of travel and remove herself from her dominant older brother. “He was certain that he had what it takes, both intellectually and creatively. He made a lot of sacrifices.”
The man accredited as the most successful designer to come out of Italy was born in the northern Italian town of Piacenza to a humble family. Always a high achiever, young Giorgio was fascinated by medicine and enrolled in a medical program at the University of Bologna. In 1953, after two years of studies, he was called to the armed service, which included working in a military hospital. This experience convinced him that he was not cut out to be a doctor.
A stint as a window dresser at a department store in Milan led to a career in buying men’s wear and eventually to the Nino Cerruti company, where he begun designing men’s clothes. His skills were in demand, and for the next decade, while continuing to work for Cerutti, Armani also freelanced, contributing designs to as many as ten manufacturers at a time.
In the late 1960s, Armani met Galeotti, an architectural draftsman, which marked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted for many years. In 1973 Galeotti persuaded him to open a design office in Milan, and in 1975 he presented his first collection of men’s ready-to-wear. He also produced a women’s line for the same season.
It was great timing. The mid-70s, says fashion critic Aspesi, “was no longer for the bourgeoisie, or the Revolution.” It was a more restrained era, one particularly suited to the quieter urges and moods of the temperate designer. “He understood people needed to dress more simply—but with some kind of nobility,” says Aspesi. “He had this feeling people were tired, they wanted something new.” Armani literally kicked the stuffing out of jackets, imparting a fluid, unbroken line, a discreet hint of flattery to men in 1974; then, the following season, he did the same for women. It was they who made him a star. Especially American women. The media did their part, too: by 1982, Armani had appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
“America was the first to understand the importance of Armani,” says Aspesi, because this was the pioneering country where women suddenly found themselves in the workplace and in urgent need of new forms of armor: business jackets—but amiable ones that paradoxically enhanced women’s appeal.
In the early 1980s Armani began producing for the United States and introduced the Mani line for men and women. The label became one of the leading names in international fashion with the introduction of several new product lines, including G. A. Le Collezioni, Giorgio Armani Underwear and Swimwear, and Giorgio Armani Accessories.
The also company signed an important agreement with L’Oréal to create perfumes and introduced the Armani Junior, Armani Jeans, and Emporio Armani lines, followed in 1982 by the introduction of Emporio Underwear, Swimwear, and Accessories. A new store was opened in Milan for the Emporio line, followed by the first Giorgio Armani boutique.
During the late 1980s, Armani expanded into new markets, introducing a line of eyeglasses (1988), socks (1987), a gift collection (1989), and a new “basic” men’s and women’s line for America known as A/X Armani Exchange, offering lower prices for the relaxed chic clothes that developed from Armani’s concern for the end user. The result was a more youthful product with the same level of stylistic quality as his high-end line, but at a more accessible price.
“I am not an elitist. I really want all sorts of people to be able to experience the Armani look, which is based around the idea of elegance and sophistication. And as the Armani design philosophy is essentially a luxury design philosophy — in that I believe all my products, whatever the price point, deliver quality and design excellence—then I do subscribe to the idea of democratic luxury,” he says.**
Always forward thinking and unconventional Armani wooed a wide network of marketing avenues in the 80s to send out his brand message including designing the costumes for American Gigolo (1980), the success of which led to a long-term collaboration with the world of film. The new publishing executive Jacqueline Onassis wore his clothes, as did Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, and Martin Scorsese. It was an extraordinary time, a natural alliance between the romance of Hollywood, where clothing taste is, to say the least, erratic, and the quiet drama of Armani.
In 2000, Giorgio Armani SpA was introducing new lines of cosmetics and home furnishings, and expanding its line of accessories. At the same time, the Guggenheim Museum in New York hosted an exhibition of Armani’s work, a first for a living designer and the crowds and fans flocked – the average attendance was 29,000 a week, making it a stand out, sell out event in New York annals.
Currently, Armani’s empire spans a retail network of 60+ Giorgio Armani boutiques, a luxury hotel chain (the flagship hotel is located in Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates), 16 upscale furniture stores, a branded Dolci (confectionery) store, and a Fiori (flower) shop.
The man himself is simply put, unstoppable, his drive making him a multi-millionaire many times over and he’s achieved these great heights this with puritanical focus and a strict regime – He doesn’t smoke, rarely drinks, and accuses those who indulge of being “wild.” His evenings are a bowl of pasta, bed at 11, quiet. “He dresses actors, but he does not hang with actors,” says a former employee.
He has a temper, but his family and employees report that beneath the explosions, Armani is famously softhearted: he almost never fires anyone and can be touchingly generous to total strangers, even going to the extent of saving a distressed Milanese woman who recently wrote a newspaper that she was about to lose her home now owns it free and clear, courtesy of the designer.
We’re intrigued by Armani, and especially by his clothes, which are timelessly elegant and imbue the wearer with a feeling of looseness and ease. His designs have an element of relaxed construction yet moulded and cleaving to the body. In a piece of Armani clothing, there’s a sense of closeness, but never constriction.
Armani’s devotion to his design and work comes down to how personal he makes the process. “Me—what I do with my pins, I don’t do only at the last minute. I see the first piece of material. I am there from the beginning with my associates. I do the work of a tailor.”
And what a genius tailor he is.
In true Giorgio Armani fashion, spring’s campaign gravitates towards a dark point of view – focused on the classic suit deconstructed for modern times with a special cut, prints and finishes to distinguish the season. Photographed by Nick Knight, the campaign features model standout Ben Hill.
REFERENCES AND EXCERPTS FROM:
“Armani in Full” – Judy Bachrach, Vanity Fair Magazine, October 2000 – www.vanityfair.com
** “10 Questions: Giorgio Armani” – ELLE Decor Magazine – http://www.elledecor.com