Italian fashion designer. Armani was dubbed the ‘Sexy Tailor’ by the American fashion press for sartorial innovations he introduced in menswear. He brought sensual drape to traditional suit coats by eliminating rigid interlinings that had shaped and restricted men’s clothing in the 1970s. To complement his new softly-tailored coats, he created short, supple, collared shirts and textural, patterned ties. Armani’s impact on menswear went beyond unstructured sewing techniques to include a serene color palette inspired by the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. The neutral earth tones included an inventive grey–beige (‘greige’), moss, mushroom and smoky grey–blue, tones not seen before in menswear. Armani claimed to be ‘the stylist without color’. Armani also brought a feminine touch to menswear and eventually expanded his design aesthetic to women’s clothing, bringing a powerful look to women’s fashion. His minimal modernism in cut and fit, while retaining maximum impact in silhouette and color, stimulated the fashion imagination of Hollywood, retailers, journalists and customers of both sexes.
Love of stage and cinema inspired Armani throughout his career, proving to be the catalyst to his future international recognition. After studying medicine, he completed his military service in the Army infirmary but sought civilian work more compatible with his temperament. In 1957 Armani went to work at La Rinascente, Milan, Italy’s most important fashion store, where his innovative visual merchandising skills earned him a promotion to their style office. Armani travelled extensively to select unique products for the store. He attracted the attention of Nino Cerutti (b 1930), an Italian textile and clothing manufacturer known for textured fabrics and sophisticated use of color. Armani was hired to design a ready-to-wear wholesale men’s line: Hitman. With a strong sense of style, color, packaging and promotion, but no formal training, Armani succeeded at Hitman for eight years.
Armani’s career shifted to entrepreneur and designer when he met Sergio Galeotti, his business and life partner, in the late 1960s. Both men launched the label Giorgio Armani, SpA on 24 July 1975. Armani was among a group of new Italian designers featured at Barney’s, New York in 1976. He also began cultivating contacts in Hollywood; his involvement in the 1980 film American Gigolo was a significant factor in launching Armani’s fame in a global fashion market. Acknowledging Milan as the chicest place for menswear, Paul Schrader, director of American Gigolo, selected Armani to outfit Richard Gere in his role as the urbane paid escort, Julian Kaye. Critics praised the exciting and original wardrobe of the star of the film, and enthusiasts could concurrently purchase the clothing they had just seen on screen in retail stores. Through this film, Armani’s popularity in the US was established, and afterwards, Saks Fifth Avenue premièred his first collection designed expressly for America. Armani was also the first designer to open an office in Los Angeles expressly to increase his celebrity clientele and his presence at the prestigious Academy Award ceremonies.
Recognizing the importance of the feminist movement, Armani drew inspiration from his mother’s simple, dignified style and his sister Rosanna’s penchant for wearing men’s jackets. Crossing gender boundaries, he used his signature minimalist tailoring techniques, softer textiles and earthy colors to create women’s ‘power suits’ that were also feminine. In 1979 Armani received the distinguished Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for interpreting his catwalk aesthetic for mass consumers worldwide. Hollywood’s most admired leading ladies also chose Armani for red carpet galas, making both his gowns and tuxedos the most sought-after (see fig.).
After the death of Sergio Galeotti in 1985, Armani assumed control of his business, expanding the Armani imprint into a comprehensive lifestyle aesthetic, from spectacles to home furnishings. As an astute and democratic businessman, Armani expanded his brand by launching diffusion lines: Emporio Armani for clothing at a level below couture and A/X for designer denim and casual T-shirts; both offered status dressing to a mass audience. In 2000, Armani’s achievement was recognized with a retrospective exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. One of the most successful global enterprises, Giorgio Armani is a privately held and owner-managed business. Armani’s goal was ‘to find a way to make and wear clothes for a time that was less formal but that still yearned for style’ (exh. cat., p. 254) and he has succeeded in artfully capturing the essence of late 20th and early 21st century clothing desires.