Monday, 15 July 2024

Giorgio Armani

and his super singular fashion universe.

FANTASTIC MAN - Giorgio_armani_4_fm37

ECCENTRICITY is a notion that suits Mr. Armani very well, according to the legendary designer himself. He’s the founder of a monumental empire that, by fate more than choice, he runs as the sole proprietor, overseeing more than 8,000 employees. Brand Armani provides everything from fashion and underwear to hotel rooms, food, flowers, books, gyms, sofas, lamps, fragrances, chocolate, sports gear — enough for his fans to live 24/7 in a perfect Armani world, should they so wish.

From Fantastic Man n° 37 — 2023
Text by JEREMY LEWIS and GERT JONKERS
Photography by ALASDAIR McLELLAN

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Of course, it takes a true eccentric to pull all this off and keep things so exciting for half a century. “I am eccentric, and I say this with pride, even though the adjective sometimes associated with crazy, might seem light-years away from what I do,” Mr. Armani states in ‘Per Amore’, his autobiography that hit shelves earlier this year. The word should not be confused with flamboyant, theatrical, or excessive, he adds; to him it’s “the rigour of absolute purism” that makes him so strange — and so super, super successful. He is the first fashion designer to take Hollywood by storm, the second-wealthiest man in Italy, and he’s lionized by everyone from Stefano Pilati and Kim Jones to Hedi Slimane.

Giorgio Armani’s inventions are bafflingly timeless and so specific that they seem to come from — and make sense for — every era. And now more than ever. As menswear is U-turning from streetwear to tailoring, and nobody wants to ditch the comfort of a tracksuit, who else to go to than the man who radicalised and softened the traditional suit like no one before? Mr. Armani’s clothes are outlandish and modest, modern and classic, uniform and deeply personal, familiar and weird all at once. Mostly, they’re all very Armani, because at the whopping age of 89, the designer still runs the ship with an unwavering eye for every detail. “While some people might accuse me of being dictatorial, my achievements show that I’ve always been right,” he writes, with a modicum of irony.

But do we even know who Mr. Armani is? There was a time when people thought he lived a sort of monk-like existence, as he puts it in the following interview. They thought he was hiding out in his Milan headquarters like a hermit. How wrong the people were. Mr. Armani is in thrall to the magic of moviemaking, admires Jean Paul Gaultier and Dries Van Noten and scores his funkiest summer looks at local markets on indulgent holidays. According to his book, Mr. Armani will one day leave his legacy to the two people he has tasked with the continuation of his empire: his niece Silvana, who runs the womenswear studios, and Leo Dell’Orco, his head of menswear for almost 40 years. “And that is how it will be,” he writes. Not that Mr. Armani really wants to stop; he even struggles to finish his autobiography, taking two final chapters to try and put the story to an end. He just wants to go on. And indeed, look at what he’s done, what he does, and where Giorgio Armani will take things next. And watch the world follow.

QUESTION — Mr. Armani, you have a time machine to take you anywhere for 24 hours. Where would you go?

ARMANI — I would probably go back to my early days as a designer and give myself a lot of good advice. That’s the practical answer. But for fun, I’d visit the pioneering days of Hollywood. When I was a kid I used to go to the cinema in Milan, which was the big city near where I grew up — in Piacenza — and it was a magical experience. I’d love to go see the formative era of moviemaking in action.

What’s the craziest rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself?

There was a time when people thought I lived a monk-like existence. They thought I was holed up in my Milan headquarters like some sort of modern-day ascetic. That was never the case, but it played into a convenient narrative for the media, I suppose. In my experience, the media often deals in characterisations rather than nuanced reality.

Have you ever been lost for inspiration?

I can honestly say I’ve never suffered from creator’s block. I have a very active imagination and creativity comes naturally to me. Inspiration comes from memories, from my observations of people and from research online and in books. I find it everywhere — in films I watch, in conversations I have and in my travels. The world is my inspiration. It never ceases to surprise and delight. What is good design and what is bad design? I consider good design to be essential, refined, simple, timeless. I consider bad design to be overwrought, unnecessarily fussy, or driven by passing trends. Where clothing and accessories are concerned, good design is also always comfortable and functional.

You emerged in the 1970s as part of a new wave of Italian ready-to-wear designers, with people like Walter Albini, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace. Was there a sense of camaraderie, or was it more a kind of rivalry?

We knew each other, of course, and it was an exciting time. There was definitely a sense of a new era of Italian fashion. We each had our own aesthetic and inevitably the press liked to play up rivalries. Gianni Versace and myself were often portrayed as being at different ends of the design spectrum: I was the minimalist and he the maximalist. It was a simplification, but it created a narrative that caught on.

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FANTASTIC MAN - The designer was photographed in his home on Via Borgonuovo in Milan – one of the nine houses he has in Milan, Pantelleria, Broni, Paris, Antigua, St. Moritz, New York, Saint-Tropez and Forte die Marmi. Mr. Armani also has two very liveable yachts.

Do you prefer day or night?

The daytime hours give me a sense of accomplishment and of being productive. I like to rise early, exercise for an hour, eat a healthy breakfast and then go to my design studio. I follow a routine that affords me the time and space to work in a concentrated way. And that’s what makes me happy.

Your men’s collections have famously influenced your womenswear, but have your women’s collections ever influenced your menswear?

Of course. I’ve always been interested in blurring the lines where gender-specific design is concerned. In my menswear this expresses itself most evidently in my choice of fabrics, which are often fluid and drapey and perhaps of a type more often associated with womenswear. In contrast to traditional tailored menswear, my approach has been to let the wearer’s physique define the form, which again might be said to be a characteristic of much womenswear. When I was starting out, I decided to introduce a kind of softness, aiming for a new harmony between the body and the garment, keeping in mind an essential point: clothing must bestow a sense of authority, elegance and dignity without disguising each person’s individuality.

It seems like Chanel has been a significant influence on you. Are there any other designers who you respect or admire? Or are there designers who have been as impactful to your menswear?

Coco Chanel was a great talent, and her exploration of comfort and simplicity in clothing has always been a source of inspiration for me. This concept of comfort and simplicity extends to my menswear too. The body is both the point of departure and the point of arrival for everything I do. And then of course Nino Cerruti, who hired me and gave me confidence and taught me the basics of my work. It was from him that I learned the quest for a new classic style: soft, and anything but rigid. To me, he was an example of coherent style and intuition. And Jean Paul Gaultier, fashion’s enfant terrible, who managed like no one else to retain his enthusiasm and innocence but also the ability to break rules and barriers using only his imagination. I also appreciate the work of Dries Van Noten, Hedi Slimane and Giambattista Valli. In general, I appreciate anyone who does his or her own thing at his or her own pace, not playing by the rulebook. That, too, is an attitude I admire.

Is there a collection or a garment that you regret designing, or one that you consider a mistake?

I don’t believe in regret; it’s a waste of time and energy. Inevitably you will create some things that work better than others, and occasionally you will go down a cul-de-sac as a designer. That is a necessary consequence of creativity. The trick is to recognise when this has happened and to get back on the right path.

What’s in your wardrobe that isn’t Armani?

More than you would imagine, actually! During the summer, my ideal wardrobe is made up of simple pieces that I buy in local markets, or T-shirts from local places I like, worn with shorts and friulane, Friulian slippers. When I’m on holiday I love to wear colours, which may seem strange for someone who normally wears navy blue. I once got photographed in an Alanui cardigan, and that caused a bit of a stir. I also love watches, I own several vintage ones that I’m very fond of.

Do you wear jewellery?

I do, as a matter of fact: a wristwatch and a ring. Both were gifted to me by somebody very close to my heart.

Do you have any advice for a man who is struggling to dress himself?

Remember that the point of being well dressed is that you feel comfortable, because then you will feel confident. So don’t try to disguise yourself. Go for simple elegance. Start with the basics and never overdo it. And always look in the mirror before you go out and ask yourself whether there is anything you can remove from your outfit to keep it essential.

Men’s fashion has changed so much in the last couple of decades as a result of things like streetwear, extreme casualisation, gender fluidity, social media. What are the most surprising or important developments that you’ve observed?

These are all things I have been working on since the very beginning. I explored streetwear with Emporio Armani, which became a uniform for the paninari youth movement in Italy and then reached the rest of the world. Gender fluidity has always been an aesthetic code for me, and casualisation is what I have pioneered in my collections through pursuing the idea of deconstruction in tailoring. So in many ways, the conversations that are now dominating the debate around menswear are ones I’ve been having with myself and my team for many years. Through social media, though, there is a genuine shift in how people engage with fashion, and with each other too. And that’s new. My take on it is that while there are benefits to social media — undoubtedly, in the way that it promotes connectivity and can be used to get messages out there in a way that was unimaginable in the past — it also contributes to a worryingly frenetic pace of life. In particular, it feeds the notion that newness and passing trends are crucial to being stylish, which, in my opinion, is a fallacy.

You’re famously involved in everything in your giant empire. How to delegate?

I’ve been asking myself that question for decades! I’m a perfectionist, and I need to be involved in all that is Armani. That said, my business is obviously far too large now for me to attend to all the decisions that need to be made on a daily basis, so I’ve gathered a great group of people around me. I oversee things and they action them. Where delegation is concerned, it’s all about the people you have on your team, and I am careful to choose those who understand my vision and believe in it. But where design is concerned, I must confess I’m still very much involved in the minutiae. I simply don’t know how else to do it.

And finally, do you believe in astrology or the supernatural?

I’m not a superstitious person, but I can’t help but feel that fate has had a hand in my life and success.

FANTASTIC MAN - Mr. Armani does not collect art; he thinks masterpieces should be kept in museums and not be owned by individuals for their egotistical pleasure. The only significant works of art he owns are a drawing by Matisse and a photo by Man Ray.

ADVENTURES OF ARMANI
by Jeremy Lewis

Why Mr. Armani got to be the superstar he is, featuring his youth, romance and his endeavours in the fields of fashion, hotels and everything else that bears his glittering name. Plus a surprising cameo from John Travolta. It’s a story rich and full of spectacle.

RARE

Fashion has a tendency to self-mythologise and inflate its own importance. It hypes itself; it indulges in hyperbole and grandiose affectation. There is a concerted effort made by all actors and players in this great fashion conspiracy to disguise its commercial activities with pretensions of higher art. A particularly skilled designer is not merely a stylist or a savvy marketer but a visionary. A fashion collection is not just a coordinated assortment of merchandise but a triumphant creative expression of cultural importance. Or so they would have you believe. With perspective, one quickly realises that it’s absurd to think that raising a hem length or popularising a fad could somehow carry weight in the broader scheme of things. But sometimes, well, actually, it can. Designers whose abilities and influence transcend clothing and commerce, reverberating into the world at large, do exist. They are, of course, exceptionally rare — rarer than the fashion cabal would have you believe. So, with that frank and unflattering truth laid bare, it is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Giorgio Armani is one of the most important designers of all time.

Here are a few concise background facts: Giorgio Armani was born on 11 July 1934 in Piacenza, Italy. After a false start studying medicine and a stint in the Italian army, he joined the Rinascente department store in Milan as an assistant merchandiser and later became a menswear buyer. In 1965, he segued over to the design studio of Nino Cerruti, where he learned and plied his skills in tailoring and creating clothing. He became a designer for hire, lending his talents to Krizia, Loewe, Ungaro, and Zegna (among many others). In 1975 he established Giorgio Armani S.p.A. and showed his first eponymous collection. Like Alexander in Rome before him, Giorgio Armani would go on to conquer the known world.

BLAZER REVOLUTION

 
In contrast to women’s fashion, the evolution of menswear has been more conservative and has moved at a snail’s pace. Its history is summarised in a handful of sweeping and expansive epochs rather than a rapid-fire cycling of seasonal trends. Menswear eschews sudden change in favour of cautious, creeping progress: a tightening of line in a silhouette, a subtle shift in shape and proportions. Innovation is not achieved through flagrant novelty but through the edging development of nuance in detail: the slope of a lapel, the curve of a shoulder, the break of a hem.

In the late 1960s, menswear was fussy and heavily constructed. Modernism gave way
to dandyism to create what American writer Jay Cocks once described as “racetrack contours and crotch-cleaving pants that made any man, in profile, look like a bisected hourglass.” Menswear was rigid and restrictive and at the same time stylised and prone to peacockery. The counterculture of the 1960s had chipped away at postwar conservatism. In the ’70s, a new masculine identity emerged, one that was freer and more liberated. It required a new look, and Giorgio Armani had an idea of his own.

Armani’s quiet revolution can be summed up in a single object: the unconstructed blazer. It was a rebuttal to traditional tailoring and, by default, conventional masculinity. Armani gutted the tailored jacket. He ripped out the lining and inner construction and replaced the heavy and inflexible fabrics with ones of a lighter hand and softer drape. His proposition was not entirely new: it was preceded by the Neapolitan jacket, an Italian innovation of the 1930s created by renowned tailor Vincenzo Attolini and famously sported by the then Duke of Windsor. But that had been 40 years earlier. In the time since, Italy had risen, fallen, lost a war, and was on the rise again, and menswear had shifted a world away. When Armani debuted the unconstructed blazer in 1975, the new soft look was nothing but startlingly contemporary.

Ease was the operative word. Armani proposed a sensual and relaxed look at a time when men’s fashion was uptight and rigid. He advocated for a comfort and lightness that mirrored men’s changing lifestyles and aspirations. Armani bestowed upon menswear a casual yet highly refined elegance. It was a runaway success. The 1970s was the birth of Italian fashion as we know it today — an industry that rivals the quality, creativity, and market share of Paris. The era saw a new wave of eager ready-to-wear designers with something new to say — something that traditional tailoring or alta moda, in their ivory towers, could not. Included in Armani’s cohort were Gianni Versace, Gianfranco Ferré, Fendi, Missoni and more. And while each of them enjoyed incredible success, it was Armani’s arc, his quiet revolution, that would become most synonymous with this benchmark moment in fashion history.

 

SERGIO

 
Hidden behind many great designers is a tenacious true believer — an individual whose faith and conviction is incorruptible and shatterproof. They are the fighters and cheerleaders and frequently also the backbone of the business. They toil behind the scenes to keep the fantasy flowing, negotiating with suppliers, coddling editors and journalists, signing cheques, balancing budgets. Yves Saint Laurent famously had Pierre Bergé. Calvin Klein had Barry Schwartz. Rei Kawakubo has Adrian Joffe and Rick Owens has Michèle Lamy. Giorgio Armani had Sergio Galeotti.

The pair were partners in work and life. They met in 1966 when Armani was still designing menswear for Nino Cerruti and moonlighting in womenswear in the still-burgeoning world of Italian ready-to-wear. They met at a nightclub, La Capannina. Galeotti was a hungry and ambitious 20-year-old architect and the two hit it off right away. Armani confided his hopes and ambitions to Galeotti and was rewarded with Galeotti’s unwavering devotion.

“The more I spoke to him about my experiences, the goals I had achieved as well as my aspirations, the more he understood my potential,” Armani divulges in ‘Per Amore’, his recent autobiography. “He lived in Versilia and yet wanted to move to Milan to test himself, but above all to experience this adventure together with me.” Armani found him a job in Milan as a draughtsman at the architectural firm Peressutti and Rogers and the two decided to move in together, finding an apartment on Viale Lazio.

Eventually, the pair began working together, with Galeotti handling the business and administrative affairs of Armani’s private design studio. Apparently, it was at Galeotti’s insistence that Armani — who up until that time had only been designing for others — should produce and launch an eponymous collection. It was Galeotti who convinced Armani that he should sell his white Volkswagen to help raise $10,000 in start-up capital. They founded Giorgio Armani S.p.A. together in 1975. The 1980s saw a huge boom in fashion, as demand for conspicuous, status-enhancing clothing ballooned (along with the silhouette). Armani and Galeotti’s business flourished. Italian fashion had arrived on the global stage, wrenching away the grip on power previously held by the French. It was against this backdrop of success and prosperity that the despair and devastation of the AIDS epidemic unfolded. The first cases were reported in 1981, and the number quickly escalated around the world.

Knowledge about what caused the condition was scarce, stigma and fear ran high, and as the ’80s went on, the casualties began to mount. The gay community was ravaged, as were the industries that gay men inhabited. Fashion was among the hardest hit. “Everything happened during the same year,” Armani recalls in his autobiography. “The news of Sergio’s illness, his immediate hospitalisation, the helplessness, the courage, on my part as well, to insist on talking about the future, as if nothing were wrong.” At this point, the pair were no longer romantically involved, a fact that did nothing to ease the pain of saying goodbye and watching someone you love deteriorate before your eyes. Galeotti passed away in Milan on 14 August 1985, at the age of 40.

So crucial had Galeotti been to the business that it was presumed by the industry at large that Armani would call it quits and fold the company. He did not. “Some said a designer cannot be a businessman too,” he would later tell Ingrid Sischy, in an interview in the catalogue for his early 2000s Guggenheim show. “It was very difficult, though. I didn’t really know my firm. I had left a lot of the responsibility to Sergio.” Slowly but surely Armani did learn, assuming all management duties. “I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. And it is that, it is he [Galeotti] who gives me the strength even now to continue.” Giorgio Armani triumphed over tragedy and emerged more fortified than before as a designer, chairman, and chief executive.

FANTASTIC MAN - Mr. Armani lives by Dieter Rams’s credo “Less but better,” which he finds more apt than just calling himself a minimalist. He also loves to quote Wassily Kandinsky: “I’m like a piece of ice with a flame burning inside.”

SEX & HOLLYWOOD

 
With the critical success of 1976’s ‘Taxi Driver’ behind him, screenwriter Paul Schrader embarked on another ambitious and unsettling portrait of America, this time as director. His new film about a male prostitute framed for murder was set to star John Travolta. It was in fact Travolta’s manager who had the idea to ask Giorgio Armani to provide the actor’s wardrobe. Though Travolta would eventually drop the project, his Armani clothes remained in the film.

Starring Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton and released in 1980, ‘American Gigolo’ has become a case study in how cinematic storytelling and fashion can synergise to create a bona fide pop culture moment. The film is credited with launching Gere’s career and introducing Armani to America. Part of the enduring appeal of ‘American Gigolo’ is that it is stylised but at the same time low-key and understated. The film’s cinematography, location, architecture, set design and wardrobe combine to create a sweeping aesthetic statement despite none of the individual elements themselves being particularly vivid. Julian, played by Richard Gere, lives in a modernist bachelor pad in Los Angeles. He wears fine clothing in beautiful natural fabrics and drives a Mercedes-Benz 450 SL. His life is beautifully art-directed, a studied composition. Though meant to contrast with sordid clandestine activities, the illusion is nonetheless solid. In one memorable scene, Julian is prepping for a job, sorting through what to wear, and there it is on labels peeking out from inside the collars of the shirts and jacket: Giorgio Armani.

From just a handful of shots, Armani’s name became synonymous with beautiful people, beautiful worlds, affluence and means. And not only with these, but with sex appeal as well. Julian wears beautiful clothes and lives in a beautiful home, and he pays for all that by selling his beautiful body. Morality and ethics aside, it is a potent fantasy and perfect for selling clothes. The importance of ‘American Gigolo’ to Armani’s success story cannot be overstated. Not only did it heighten the public’s awareness of his designs, it marked the beginning of the designer’s long and fruitful relationship with Hollywood.

 

CHANEL PARALLELS

 
Despite so often being reduced to nothing more than the flimsy flapper dress, the 1920s were in fact exceptional and radical. The world underwent an irrevocable change regarding aesthetic and stylistic innovations. This was the period that gave the world jazz, Bauhaus, Duchamp, Joséphine Baker, short hair on women, dresses without corsets, and, of course, Chanel.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel founded a millinery practice in 1910 and eventually ascended to become one of France’s greatest couturiers. She is closely associated with the boyish garçonne look. Indeed, Chanel took cues from menswear and adapted them to women’s fashion, allowing the fairer sex to finally dress with the ease and certainty of a man.

Her aesthetic was sober, but not plain. Buffering Chanel’s spare sensibilities was an air of intellectual sophistication. She proposed that black be worn outside of mourning (and was mocked to her face for it by fellow fashion designer Paul Poiret). Chanel ran with the boys and dressed like them too. She designed her clothes accordingly: jersey, cardigans, sportswear and tweed. She spliced men’s wardrobe staples into women’s haute couture. Chanel’s truest essence can be described with a single word: modernism. So, what does this all have to do with Armani?

If you were to ask Giorgio Armani who his favourite designer was, he would tell you it’s Chanel. This can partly be explained by timing. In the early 1970s, as Armani was maturing as a designer and as Italian ready-to-wear was still burgeoning, a craze for art deco and the 1930s swept through fashion. It is from the ’30s that the ’70s derived the long, lean silhouette. Looking to the ease and sensual elegance of the past, designers adapted the period’s soft dressing for their modern times. Chanel ruled the 1930s, and her work from this era would leave an indelible impression on Armani.

But one suspects his affinity for the designer is much more intrinsic and integral than that. There are many parallels between the two. Chanel and Armani both share a love of simplicity and luxurious austerity. They also revel in restraint and unflinching modernity. And even that iconic shade of Armani greige references Chanel’s signature use of the colour beige.

Armani’s masterstroke in womenswear was placing his men’s unconstructed blazer on a female dress form. As alluring as his signature jacket was on a man, it was undeniably even more so on a woman — mannish but also feminine, powerful but also supremely elegant. Armani’s “borrowing” from his men’s collection synced with the emergence of a new fashion customer: an independent, well-paid woman who needed to navigate the business world of men. Enter Armani’s soft power dressing.

From the 1980s onward, he would become the designer of choice for women in need of comfortable, modern clothing that could command authority in a room full of testosterone. What draws Chanel and Armani together is that Armani is ultimately a feminist: someone who believes that men and women are equal. If we look at the history of fashion as a whole and consider each designer in light of the values demonstrated in their clothes, it should be plainly evident to all that Giorgio Armani is Chanel’s true spiritual heir.

EAST OF WEST

 
In 1933, Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki wrote ‘In Praise of Shadows’, an essay in which he compares and contrasts traditional Japanese and Western design. He ponders what modern utilities such as indoor bathrooms, electric lighting, plumbing, radiators, etcetera might look like had they been invented in Japan and informed by that country’s unique aesthetic and cultural values. The same question could be asked about clothing, and not just that of Japan, but the clothing of any country whose traditional dress has ceded dominance to Western fashion over the last century. What would a suit look like today if Tokyo, Riyadh or Mumbai had been leading financial centres instead of London, Paris or New York? What would menswear have become had it not evolved out of Western hegemony over the last 200 years? Few designers have provided answers as compelling as Giorgio Armani’s.

Armani’s interest in the East began with his seminal collection for Autumn and Winter 1980/81. He was an ardent fan of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and was taken by the splendour and scale of his 1980 feudal epic ‘Kagemusha’. The film’s period costumes, filled with samurai armour and traditional kimonos, left an indelible impression and catalysed a new approach in Armani’s repertoire. He sampled and referenced their shapes and details and integrated them into the softly tailored silhouettes he’d pioneered only a few years earlier. The Japanese-inspired collection would turn out to be a huge commercial disaster, but it remains one of the designer’s favourites and among his most influential.

Historically, Western clothing is based on the principle of imposing structured silhouettes onto the figure, i.e. tailoring. Tailored garments are rigid and restrictive, and they require rigorous construction not only to maintain shape but also to withstand the stress of the body’s movements as it pulls and tugs on the garment’s seams. In the East, both near and far, traditional clothes are based on the concept of joining loose expanses of cloth to create garments that rest softly on the body and allow for a full range of movement, not to mention comfort. Armani bridged that gap. As costume historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank has aptly noted, “In his logical progression from the soft jacket, Armani has experimented with various elements and proportions that point east.” Tunics, pyjamas, Nehru collars and Mao jackets are recurring favourites. Armani has blended East and West, reconciling the economical lines and relaxed volumes of the former with the workmanship and familiar tropes of the latter. From Armani’s compelling amalgamation came a supremely elegant and cosmopolitan look.

 

NONSTOP

 
A cinematic flair pervades everything Giorgio Armani does. The scope of his vision is boundless. No idea is too big, no detail is too small. This distinct quality of his work is readily observed in his advertising — particularly in the epic and sweeping campaigns shot by Aldo Fallai and Peter Lindbergh from the 1970s through to the ’90s. Together they created what is perhaps the greatest compendium of fashion imagery ever produced by a single brand. From the casting to the lighting to the locations to the poses and gestures to the clothes — the pictures are glorious, like stills from an impossibly beautiful movie screened only in one’s dreams. And they underscore the fact that despite Armani’s immense prowess and skill as a designer, the greatest expression of his ethos is not as clothing but as a lifestyle.

The Armani brand was founded to address the needs and dreams of a new way of life, and it has duly expanded as the world continues to evolve. In 1981 he launched Emporio Armani, Armani Junior, and Armani Jeans against the conventional wisdom of the fashion industry, which asserted that lower-priced diffusion labels diluted a designer’s cachet. He released his first women’s fragrance, Armani Femme by Giorgio Armani, in 1982 and his first men’s fragrance, Armani Eau Pour Homme, in 1984. In ’88 he introduced Giorgio Armani Occhiali (eyewear). In ’91 he launched A/X Armani Exchange. The year 1997 saw the addition of watches, and in 2000 he expanded into beauty. Armani made a major entry into furniture and interiors with the art deco-inspired Armani/Casa in 2000. In 2005 he launched his Armani Privé haute couture collection. Why not?

Through his prolific success, Armani has accrued a fortune that has afforded him the most premium and luxurious of living arrangements. Of all the many things he’s designed, the most telling and genuinely intriguing is his superyacht, Maìn, built in 2008 and named using one of his mother’s nicknames. At 65 metres long and able to accommodate up to twelve guests, the vessel is, naturally, outfitted with custom Armani/Casa furniture and fixtures. Armani supervised the design himself, insisting on a tricky window and hull design to create the illusion that each deck is suspended weightlessly on top of the next. The pièce de résistance: the entire ship is painted a deep, murky green, making it nearly invisible on the horizon when at sea.

Armani’s reach is far and wide; his label exists in as many permutations as the market can reasonably support. It is known throughout the industry that Mr. Armani personally approves every single style and stock-keeping unit (SKU) that bears his name. There are Armani hotels, bookstores, chocolates, jams, and even floral arrangements. Mr. Armani is the gravitational centre of a lifestyle universe, and no one exemplifies it better than him.

 

MYSTERIOUS SHORT

 
In 1990, Martin Scorsese premiered a documentary short at the Venice Film Festival called ‘Made in Milan’ — the same year as the release of his gangster smash ‘GoodFellas’. It’s proof of Armani’s impressive global standing that a Hollywood hotshot like Scorsese would fix his directorial eye on the designer, even if the pair had become firm friends after Armani provided wardrobe for ‘GoodFellas’.

The little-seen documentary is a series of fly-on-the-wall and fantasy montages, all accompanied by a hypnotic voiceover from Giorgio Armani, talking about his work, his clothes and his beloved adopted home. “Milan is my chosen city. It’s a city that allows you to express yourself and respects you…if you have something to say.” If the minotaur is part man, part bull and the centaur is part man, part horse, this film makes you search for a word for someone who’s part man, part Milan. The exquisite shots of clinky dining rooms, silent interiors and chatty aperitivi offer a dreamy sense of the city’s intimacy, exclusivity and privacy — the ideal setting for the world of Armani.

Armani’s famous attention to detail is on full display throughout, as he throws and thumbs fabrics, considers hair and make-up and offers models pastoral instructions on how to walk. And there are useful directives on how to dress. “I’ve always insisted upon rigorous simplicity. I can’t stand exhibitionism,” for example, or “Sometimes if I want to look elegant, I’ll put on a striped tie,” or “Why blue? Because I think blue looks good on me,” and perhaps most importantly for all: “Be faithful to yourself.”

Scorsese went full throttle on this sub-30-minute documentary, pulling together an elite team of award-winning artists to make it. There’s sensational cinematography from Néstor Almendros (Oscar winner for best cinematography in 1978), a transcendental score from Howard Shore (the proud owner of three Oscars, three Golden Globes and four Grammys) and Japanese drums by Kitaro (who has both a Grammy and a Golden Globe for his new age music). As a devoted film lover, Armani must have been honoured by the treatment he received as the subject of ‘Made in Milan’, but he also admits in the film that he wishes he’d made movies himself. “I would like to have been a director. This passion is still in my blood.” In an Armani universe so total, it’s surprising he never made one.

CONTRIBUTIONS

Photographic assistance by Lex Kembery and Simon Mackinlay. Production by Partner Films.