The birth of the Ar­mani man

Neue Luxury - - News - By Kirstie Cle­ments


It’s a crisp evening in Oc­to­ber 2000 and a myr­iad of celebri­ties, jour­nal­ists, clients and friends of the house, are gath­ered in the Guggen­heim Mu­seum in New York City to cel­e­brate a self-ti­tled ret­ro­spec­tive of the finest work from fash­ion de­signer Gior­gio Ar­mani. Af­ter an in­tro­duc­tory speech down­stairs, guests are free to wan­der through the ex­hi­bi­tion at their own leisure, wind­ing through decades of sar­to­rial style and el­e­gance. The event is star stud­ded— Michelle Pfeif­fer, Jeremy Irons, Is­abella Ros­sellini and Patti Smith can be seen min­gling and ad­mir­ing Ar­mani’s vast body of work, cu­rated in themes as op­posed to chrono­log­i­cal decades. As the then- ed­i­tor of Vogue Aus­tralia, I was one of an elite group of jour­nal­ists flown over for the cel­e­bra­tion. As I me­an­dered through the siz­able crowd, I oddly found my­self alone in a small dark­ened room off to one side. Pro­jected upon a large screen was a looped clip of the now leg­endary scene of a bare chested Richard Gere in Amer­i­can Gigolo, lay­ing his jack­ets, shirts and ties out on the bed, co­or­di­nat­ing the colours and tex­tures, singing along to Smokey Robin­son. I stood stock still watch­ing in ad­mi­ra­tion, think­ing the in­evitable “God, he was hot,” when I heard some­one walk in be­hind me. It was Richard Gere, he too was alone. 20 years af­ter he had filmed that iconic scene, he looked at the screen for a few mo­ments, glanced at me, broke into a wide, slightly em­bar­rassed grin, shrugged his shoul­ders and quickly turned and walked out of the room. I had just seen Richard Gere watch Richard Gere in Amer­i­can Gigolo, per­haps one of the most sem­i­nal fash­ion mo­ments in the his­tory of cinema. Mind blown.

Gior­gio Ar­mani is of course, one of the most suc­cess­ful fash­ion de­sign­ers in the world, with a busi­ness worth a stag­ger­ing $ 6.5 bil­lion net in 2016, ac- cord­ing to Bloomberg. Born in 1934, his early years in­cluded a stint as win­dow dresser for La Ri­nascente in Mi­lan, and a pe­riod de­sign­ing menswear in the work­rooms of Nino Cer­ruti be­fore he broke out form­ing his own la­bel in 1974. His early de­signs blew an ob­vi­ous wind of change into a pe­riod of re­stric­tive suit­ing and sharp an­gles. Ar­mani played with lux­u­ri­ous fabrics, tex­tures, muted tones and unique sil­hou­ettes that had their lin­ing re­moved and which in turn pro­vided fluid pleat­ing for both men and women. But the lan­guid sex­i­ness he brought to suit­ing was not louche or un­formed. The mas­ter­ful lines were still tough, the slightly ex­ag­ger­ated shoul­ders and the ‘ready for busi­ness’ at­ti­tude bring­ing with it a new sense of power dress­ing. Women and men across the planet breathed a sigh of de­lighted re­lief. They were shown how to send a mes­sage of con­fi­dence, with­out con­stric­tion or ar­ti­fice. A new sub­tlety for a new decade, draw­ing on im­pec­ca­ble Ital­ian tra­di­tions but fo­cused on a mod­ern cos­mopoli­tan fu­ture.

While Ar­mani’s new clothes were cer­tainly mak­ing an im­pact in the fash­ion world, it could be ar­gued that it was the clothes worn by Richard Gere’s char­ac­ter, the male sex worker Ju­lian Kaye in di­rec­tor Paul Schrader’s Amer­i­can Gigolo, that cat­a­pulted Ar­mani into the greater uni­verse. This rea­son­ably vac­u­ous fa­ble of the LA hustler with the heart of gold would turn not only Ar­mani, but also Richard Gere, into life­long su­per­stars. “Gior­gio Ar­mani was in­volved be­cause of John Tra­volta,” Paul Schrader con­firmed in an in­ter­view with GQ Magazine. “Tra­volta was orig­i­nally go­ing to star and his man­ager sug­gested Ar­mani be­cause he knew that he was on the verge of be­com­ing big. We all went to Mi­lan and Gior­gio was just get­ting ready to go into an in­ter­na­tional non- cou­ture line, so the film synced up per­fectly with what he was up to. John dropped out at the last mo­ment and Richard came in, but we kept all the Ar­mani clothes. It was just a mat­ter of tai­lor­ing.”

Maybe not. To men around the world, watch­ing Gere work­ing out at home in his grey marle boxer briefs and colour cod­ing his clothes, was more about sex­u­al­ity and a straight man’s re­la­tion­ship to fash­ion and style be­ing called into play. “It’s the way that Richard Gere’s char­ac­ter in­ter­acts with his clothes that has made Amer­i­can Gigolo a game changer for men’s fash­ion,” says fash­ion colum­nist and menswear ex­pert Damien Wool­nough. “The amount of at­ten­tion he pays to his tie, shirt and suit doesn’t threaten the char­ac­ter’s mas­culin­ity. His care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion doesn’t just at­tract women, it also at­tracts money. Robert Red­ford and Steve Mcqueen cul­ti­vated images of ef­fort­less fash­ion icons, but in Amer­i­can Gigolo we see the work that goes into look­ing great.”

Time­less is an overused word in the vo­cab­u­lary of fash­ion, but there is no doubt that al­most all of the el­e­ments of Gere’s wardrobe are just as rel­e­vant to­day. From the classy belted camel trench, re­laxed tone on tone suit­ing and ties com­bined with a cardi­gan. Per­haps the best re­dux in re­cent times was the Dsquared Spring/sum­mer 2011 Amer­i­can Gigolo in­spired show, fea­tur­ing the slightly high rise, su­per tight jeans, white shirt sleeves rolled up to re­veal per­fect bi­ceps. Gere’s pol­ished, un­der­stated wardrobe, matched with his raw sex­i­ness, proved to be the win­ning com­bi­na­tion. “Of course it helps that the clothes are Ar­mani and the ac­tor is Richard Gere,” notes Wool­nough dryly. “If it had been John Belushi in Fletcher Jones we wouldn’t still be talk­ing about this film.”

The film scenes where Gere spends time con­tem­plat­ing what to wear were con­sid­ered at the time ex­tremely lib­er­at­ing for the av­er­age straight male, indi- cat­ing that fash­ion could le­git­i­mately be used as a man­ner of se­duc­tion. Famed film critic Roger Ebert had an­other, less pos­i­tive take on the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage. “The whole movie has a win­ning sad­ness about it; take away the story’s sen­sa­tional as­pects and what you have is a study in lone­li­ness. Richard Gere’s per­for­mance is cen­tral to that ef­fect and some of his scenes— read­ing the morn­ing paper, re­ar­rang­ing some paint­ings, se­lect­ing a wardrobe—un­der­line the empti­ness of his life.” What­ever the cin­e­matic sub­text, his Ar­mani wardrobe kick started a sar­to­rial rev­o­lu­tion and cre­ated a tan­gi­ble sym­bol of quiet wealth and power that not only dom­i­nated the 1980s, but con­tin­ues to res­onate to­day.

In 2004, I was again for­tu­nate to spend more time with Mr Ar­mani, this time as a jour­nal­ist join­ing him on a week-long tour of Hong Kong and Shang­hai. The sig­na­ture Ar­mani aes­thetic was on con­stant dis­play, worn by both his team and Mr Ar­mani him­self—white sneak­ers, navy cardi­gans, white shirts and jeans by day, re­laxed suit­ing by night. Although I knew him to be a gi­ant in the fash­ion world, I was as­ton­ished by the ex­tent of his fame— air­port crowds would part, heads would turn, world lead­ers would mag­i­cally drop by at their ta­bles in restau­rants. It struck me then that his im­por­tance to both mens and wom­enswear is what has made him the le­gend that he is. No fash­ion de­signer, per­haps not even Karl Lager­feld, is as well known or re­spected as Gior­gio Ar­mani. With one film he man­aged to in­trin­si­cally change the way men view fash­ion— not as a joke or some­thing friv­o­lous, but as a nec­es­sary and en­joy­able part of a suc­cess­ful life. Some­thing to strive for that isn’t as flashy as a gold Rolex, or as ob­vi­ous as a mid-life sports car, but some­thing classy, un­der­stated and sexy. He le­git­imised suit­ing as se­duc­tion, cre­at­ing a lan­guage that mur­mured rather than roared. Un­lined silk, linen and wool crepe re­placed Sav­ile Row struc­ture, si­mul­ta­ne­ously free­ing and em­pow­er­ing the wearer. He did this for men and for women, a truly univer­sal take on fash­ion that was far ahead of its time. Or as it hap­pens, ex­actly at the right time.

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