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Italy’s most famous designer: The monolith of fashion – Giorgio Armani turns 90

Italy’s most famous designer: The monolith of fashion – Giorgio Armani turns 90
Italy’s most famous designer: The monolith of fashion – Giorgio Armani turns 90

The name Giorgio Armani stands for expensive fashion, expensive jewelry and expensive perfumes. But the Italian also played a part in making it possible to wear a T-shirt with a suit. Now he is turning 90.

After all these years, Giorgio Armani has of course mastered the little lies of his trade perfectly. We saw it again just a few days ago, at the fashion show in Paris, where the Italian, with white hair and a tan, generously flattered customers and celebrities with compliments on their choice of clothing. And at the end he even praised himself for his own work: “My most beautiful collection ever,” once again.

The man from Milan can afford it. The competition of the past is no more. Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint-Laurent, Gianni Versace: all dead. Armani, on the other hand, can celebrate his 90th birthday this Thursday. Many consider him to be the last great fashion designer with an unmistakable style: casual, classy and simple. He reinvented the jacket and made it possible to wear a T-shirt with a suit – something he still does today, preferably in blue.

At home in Milan

Unlike many other big names in his industry, Armani was never at home in Paris, but always in Milan. He owns several buildings on Via Borgonuovo, an extremely elegant street. The company headquarters is a palace dating back to 1662. He also shows new collections in the basement of his house. Four times a year in Milan, twice for men’s fashion, twice for women’s fashion, and twice a year in Paris. Everyone comes. Since Lagerfeld’s death in 2019, he has been the most famous fashion designer in the world for many.

The “Principe della Moda” (“Prince of Fashion”), as they called him at home, was not born in Milan, but an hour’s drive away, in the small town of Piacenza, as the second child of a housewife and a shipping clerk. His mother placed great importance on clothing, even during the war years. But his grandfather, who earned his living as a make-up artist and wig maker at the city theater, probably had a greater influence on fashion.

Fashion designer instead of doctor

In any case, Armani is proud of his origins. One of the few times in recent years that he was not simply seen in trousers and a sweater or T-shirt and maybe a jacket was when the university in his hometown awarded him an honorary doctorate last year: he wore a gown and sash, as befits a doctoral hat. In his acceptance speech, he said: “For me, this work is life, a constant act of love.” And he added with a smile but with a business-minded attitude: “I always listen to the opinions of others. But then I make the decisions.”

Armani almost became a real doctor. After graduating from high school, he studied medicine for two years. During his military service in a hospital, he realized that this was not his world. A friend introduced him to the department store chain “La Rinascente”, where he started as a window dresser and then became a buyer. That’s how he met the doyen of Italian men’s fashion, Nino Cerruti, in 1964. Without ever having learned the profession, he made his first own designs at Cerruti. Then they went their separate ways.

Fashion empire with more than 9000 employees

In the mid-1970s, Armani founded his own company with his partner Sergio Galeotti: Giorgio Armani SpA. This was the nucleus of a corporation that is now worth billions: the money initially came from fashion, then from cosmetics, watches, jewelry and hotels. Since Galeotti’s early death in 1985, the company has belonged solely to Armani. As far as we know, he has lived alone since then.

He never went public. He rejected all takeover offers. The group now has 9,250 employees around the world, more than 2,000 stores, often in the best locations, with an annual turnover of more than 2.3 billion euros. Armani looks down with disdain on “fast fashion” companies like H&M or Zara with their rapidly changing collections, which are certainly competition for him in the city centers. “A designer has to create fashion that is unique and doesn’t change every week.”

His trademark: He reduces fashion to the essentials. He removed padding and inserts from the jackets that used to be uniform-like. Shirt collars became less stiff and buttons were placed lower. He also limited himself to timeless colors such as gray, beige and white. He personally prefers deep blue. “80 percent of what I do is discipline,” he likes to say. “The rest is creativity. My limit is good taste.”

Success also in Hollywood

The fact that he comes from men’s fashion is also evident in his women’s collections. Trouser suits have never been so feminine. Cultural scientist Barbara Vinken says: “Armani brought cool sexiness to fashion.” Hollywood also adopted this. He made his breakthrough there in 1980 by dressing Richard Gere in “American Gigolo”. Kevin Costner (“All the Presidents”), Tom Cruise (“Mission Impossible”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“Wolf of Wall Street”) followed on the big screen. With the TV series “Miami Vice”, the T-shirt became a jacket suitable for everyday use.

For his fellow countrymen, the well-aged man is the ultimate Italian. They forgave Armani for bribing tax inspectors and even for outfitting the English national team for a World Cup. The magazine of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” recently described him as a “monolith of fashion”, as a “rock in the terrible, fast-paced business that knows no relatives, no permanence, no tradition”.

Succession open

The downside of all uniqueness: What will happen to the Armani brand is unclear. So far, the “Principe” has refrained from committing to a successor. In all probability, he will not do so, although the thought of what will remain certainly preoccupies him. When the newspaper “La Repubblica” asked him on his birthday, he replied: “My greatest dream is that Armani remains an expression of Italian style, even in 50 or 100 years.”

Source: Stern

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