Characteristically clad in jeans, a white shirt opened at the neck, and a navy cotton pullover, Giorgio Armani (born 1935) designs new fashions in his 16th-century palazzo in Milan. He is a recipient of the coveted Neiman Marcus Award, and has built an international reputation—as well as a fortune—on his revolutionary, unstructured jacket for men.
In April of 1982 Time magazine featured Giorgio Armani on its cover. Armani's first radically different blazer appeared in the fashion world under his own label between 1974 and 1975. His sartorial style exhibited a decidedly relaxed, even rumpled look. The designer softened these new jackets by pulling out the padding and lining and leaving out stiffeners of any kind. He combined thinner lapels with baggier pockets and longer jackets. "Armani's unstructured look makes even his English wool suits feel as comfortable as silk pajamas," observed a writer for People magazine. And in Esquire, Rita Hamilton credited Armani's suit jackets with "the kind of shape that defied the proper Italian establishmentarian look and mirrored the defiant, angry mood of political and social unrest." But, as American designer Donna Karan put it in the New York Times Magazine, "fashion evolves." And Armani's designs did change by the end of the 1970s. Creating what would eventually be known as the "wedge-shaped power suit," Armani extended the shoulders and even added padding to them. The lapels were widened, and the broadest point of the lapel, called the gorge, was lowered. The effect was similar to a style once worn by Hollywood sex symbols like Clark Gable. Still casual and comfortable, the new style was what the New York Times called a "second sartorial innovation" that endowed men with a "broad-shouldered, slim-hipped glamour."
In 1980, Giorgio Armani USA offered the American market a hybrid of the two styles. His more fluid sport coats of the first half of the decade could be compared to cardigan sweaters, with comfortable, sloping shoulders. These jackets were teamed up with T-shirts for a studied, informal look. The unmistakable Armani style evolved into an even more simplified version of the original groundbreaking blazer. In his spring 1990 women's collection, Armani "called attention to the generous flow of jackets by stripping them of superfluous detail," wrote Dan Lecca in the New York Times Magazine.
Armani's feminine version of the menswear jacket looked like it was borrowed from Greta Garbo's closet, or so imply some fashion critics. "My first jackets for women were in fact men's jackets in women's sizes," he told Time magazine. But it's Armani's use of strategically modified menswear fabrics and tailoring in women's suit jackets that is his "special contribution," stated Geraldine Stutz, president of Henri Bendel department store in New York City, in the same publication. "No one had ever done that before." While the jacket forms the foundation of the Armani empire, the Italian designer does create a variety of other garments as well. In 1982, for example, his fall collection featured felt hats, gaucho pants, and light suede hooded sweatshirts in what were described as "jelly bean" colors. Jackets were gold lamé for evening and longer for daytime wear. Fabrics included silk-lined cotton and mixtures of velvet, silk, wool, and linen, in a plethora of patterns and stripes. Whatever Armani chooses to offer in a collection, he is praised for that sense of relaxed comfort. "It's the fit of the armhole," pinpointed Dawn Mello in Vogue. And "somehow his clothes never seem to wrinkle." The man with the steel-blue eyes is not only a brilliant designer, he is also an astute businessman. A writer for Forbes magazine noted that, in general, Armani "sets prices to maximize profits rather than minimize output." The company Giorgio Armani SpA made $350 million in the international market in 1988, $90 million of which came from the United States. The designer has targeted several different markets while maintaining high profit margins. In Italy, Vestimenta sells the priciest line for Giorgio Armani Via. In 1988 it was possible to spend $1,800 for one of Armani's best American suits for men. Blouses ran for between $30 and $400, and blazers ranged from $650 to $800, made by Gruppo GFT. Designed for the 20-years-old-and-up crowd, the Armani label appeared on less pricey suits and sport coats: $700 and $360 respectively.
To capture the younger market, Armani opened a line of stores called Emporio (or Emporium, in English), first in Italy, then in the United States. These boutiques debuted in 1981 to offer quality designs for slimmer pocketbooks. Local merchandise produced in quantity kept the prices low. For example, in 1982 a leather jacket could be purchased for between $250 to $300, skirts went for from $40 to $60, and blouses were priced at around $35. Jay Cocks wrote in Time magazine that "One would be hard put to tell the difference, in fact, between a leather jacket from the Emporium and one from the couture line, without resort to the price tag; an X ray would come in handy too." Armani first stocked the Emporio with jeans, T-shirts, and brightly colored cotton bomber jackets. Many of these items were made of extra fabrics from the design studio. And despite the Armani eagle logo (i.e., his initials form an eagle), this clothing had a decided American flair to it: It was even referred to as "Rafaelo Laureno" after Ralph Lauren in the United States. But this style evolved, too, and became more truly Armani. He added dressier and more classic selections, borrowed from his couture line—but at a fraction of the cost. And the jackets alone became available in 250 fabrics and 25 styles by 1989. In that year, Armani opened an Emporio on New York City's Fifth Avenue offering many more items than just clothes. He added a wide selection of accessories, underwear, products for the home, and leather goods. Well-organized and hard-working, Armani has also been described by some of his employees as a "maniac," noted the New York Times Magazine. He puts in 12-hour days at the design studio, devoting meticulous care to each phase of his work. In New York magazine, he explained, "The more you expose yourself, the more attentive you must be to details." Just before the showing of a new collection, for example, Armani can be found revamping a model's makeup and making other finishing touches. In Milan, he is known as "the Maestro." "A seemingly stoic man who is often silent with strangers," observed Charles Gandee in House & Garden, "he is compulsive about using time constructively."
A writer for Vogue magazine described Armani as "business class to the tips of his fingers," qualifying this by adding that that's the "class where all the action is." The designer had originally set out to become a doctor, but only studied for three years toward that goal. His mother has been credited with saying he couldn't take the sight of blood. But apparently Armani claims he simply couldn't sit still long enough to do all the reading required of him. If he could start his career all over again, Armani has said he would become a director of plays and films.
After leaving college, Armani fulfilled his requirements in the Italian army by serving as a medical assistant. Three years later he took a job at the Rinascente department store (which has been described as the Sears of Italy) in Milan. There he gained experience as a window dresser and in the style office. And he got to know fashion buyers. From there he moved on to an experimental in-store boutique, where he tested new clothes for the store. Eventually he became acquainted with Nino Cerruti, who was looking for assistance in creating new menswear. Armani designed men's clothes for Cerruti for eight years. Then Sergio Galeotti, an architectural draftsman at a prestigious firm in Milan, convinced Armani to go into business with him. The two became equal partners in various ventures. By the mid-1970s, the team was ready to offer menswear under the now-famous black label of Giorgio Armani. Armani has also done free-lance work on two menswear collections for Emanual Ungaro. This experience taught him the importance of fine tailoring. And he has designed fashions for Zegna, Sicons, Mario Valentino, and Erreuno. By 1984 Armani was designing 29 collections for himself annually. And supplemental to his lines of clothing, he has garnered licensees for a wide scope of accessories, jeans, and perfume.
The private life of Giorgio Armani is "absolutely banal," he told an interviewer in Vogue. Perhaps he was referring to the fact that he is a vegetarian who eschews smoking and alcoholic beverages. (He was once a bodybuilder, too.) It is still somewhat difficult to believe that Armani's life could have any commonplace aspect to it, considering that he lives and works in a 400-year-old palazzo (or palace) and owns two other Italian getaway homes (one in Forte dei Marmi and the other on an island near Sicily, called Pantelleria). The palazzo not only encompasses the design studio and Armani's bi-level apartment; it also has its own indoor pool, an apartment for Armani's widowed mother, and an apartment for his partner, Galeotti. And there is a columned amphitheater where Armani can show his latest collections. Now modernized, it was a ballroom in another era.
Twice a year Armani has his studio redecorated, "to suit the style, spirit, and coloring of the season's collection," Gloria Noda reported in Vogue. And after having his apartment redesigned by American architect Peter Marino, Armani still wanted to make some refinements. Describing his rooms, he shared these thoughts with House & Garden writer Charles Gandee: "I would like to have the time to fill them with personal objects, pictures, which can remove that aesthetically 'too perfect' look. And I would like as well to have the possibility of making some mistakes, thus bringing it closer to human nature." This philosophy is inherent in Armani's clothing designs as well. He fosters a sense of individuality and human sensuousness in his collections. Talking about style, Armani told an interviewer in Self magazine that "Each face, each hair texture requires a personalized look." He went on to describe individual style as the "correct balance of knowing who you are, what works for you and how to develop your own character."
The 1991 spring collection of women's clothes by Armani seemed to be designed to enhance the wearer's sense of well-being. The collection included a softly tailored white silk and linen jacket with matching pants. There was also an off-the-shoulder dress paired with shorts, again in a combination of linen and silk, in a muted multiprint fabric design. For evening wear, Armani offered "molten dinner suits and dresses paved in sequins, small crystals and pearls," as described in the New York Times Magazine. Cap-sleeved dresses with A-line skirts were also part of the new collection. In another article for the same magazine, Armani told Carrie Donovan that his goal in 1991 was to offer a look that's "just a bit more modern and young."
The 90s have been a busy time for Armani. He has been convicted of bribery (of tax officials in Italy), opened his chain of Armani Cafes, and developed a new fragrance. Giorgio Armani Neve is Armani's men's and women's skiwear and ski casualwear line, developed in 1995. His 1991 project, A/X: Armani Exchange, has been thus far disappointing in terms of sales. The chain of stores represented Armani's attempt to break into the American mass market, offering lower prices for the relaxed chic clothes.
Celebrities still count on Armani to make them look good for Hollywood's major events. Whoopi Goldberg told People, Armani "just makes me look elegant." Other star fans of Armani include Jodie Foster and Jack Nicholson.
Further Reading on Giorgio Armani
Economist, May 21, 1994.
Elle, December 1995.
Esquire, May 22, 1979.
Forbes, July 11, 1988.
Harper's Bazaar, May 1984.
House & Garden, January 1990.
New York, March 20, 1989.
New York Times Magazine, January 20, 1980; October 21, 1990; February 3, 1991; September 9, 1991; February 7, 1993.
People, July 30, 1979; September 19, 1994.
Self, February 1991.
Time, April 5, 1982.
Vogue, January 1984; August 1984; January 1985; August 1986.
Women's Wear Daily, February 17, 1995; November 7, 1995.