The Chanel quilted bag, the Tod’s Gommino driving shoe, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer. Fashion’s finest moments also tend to be its most subtle. Take, for instance, the Giorgio Armani suit. Made famous by Richard Gere’s dapper high-class escort in classic Eighties film American Gigolo, Armani’s unique vision of the tailored two-piece remains as relevant today as it was in 1975, when Giorgio launched his eponymous brand. Defined by its deconstructed shape, with a half lining, softer-shoulder and shirt-like consistency, this modern take on the suit was designed to act, in Armani’s words, like “a second skin” on its wearer.
The choice of City boys and Hollywood stars — George Clooney, Christian Bale and Will Smith all favour Armani for the red carpet —wearing an Armani suit is akin to driving a vintage E Type Jag, or living in Marlow. A statement of good taste as much as of wealth, the ultimate Armani suit is in fact one hand-tailored, as I recently discovered.
Launched in 2006, Armani’s made-to-measure service was introduced as a move away from the homogenization of the fashion industry, as Giorgio Armani explains: “It was a time of big fashion corporations, globalisation and an impersonal approach to design. I believe it is important to remember where fashion design started, with the desire to make beautiful clothes for people to wear”. Seven years on, the service is available in the majority of Armani’s flagship stores worldwide. And I opted to get mine made at the brand’s London Sloane Street branch.
The store’s soaring ceilings, glass staircases and polished sandstone walls are a world away from the shabby charm of Savile Row’s tailoring houses, where well-thumbed suit blocks and fabric scraps litter the floors of even the most esteemed establishments. This is tailoring, Italian style. Ushered over to an immaculate leather sofa by one of Armani’s be-suited shop boys, the first step is to choose the silhouette of my suit. While the <Linea Costruita> — a more rigidly tailored, classic style — is a popular choice for the label’s business customers, the Linea Naturale, characterised by a soft-shouldered jacket, is what the brand does best.
“When I started designing, men were all the same, with those traditional suits that I found uncomfortable,” Giorgio Armani tells me. “I removed the structure and I transformed it… In this way I created a sort of informal jacket that is relaxed, that lets the body and its sensuality be perceived.”
In the interim, there’s been a rise in the popularity of more severely tailored suiting, thanks in no small part to designers such as Thom Browne and Tom Ford. But recent collections from Brunello Cucinelli, Dolce & Gabbana, Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna — and, of course, Giorgio Armani — have featured unlined cashmere jackets and one-and-a-half breasted, round-shouldered blazers meant to be worn with jumpers and polo shirts rather than shirts and ties. It would seem a softer, less rigid approach to tailoring, as originally proponed by Armani, is back in favour.
“The rise in soft tailoring reflects the flow we’ve seen from more formal into more relaxed dressing,” says Jason Broderick, head of menswear at Harrods. “Softer silhouettes are increasing in popularity as they are more versatile. What’s more, as these deconstructed pieces are less rigidly tailored, they provide a more natural silhouette and consequently have a broader, more youthful appeal.”
Once I outline the basic elements of my suit (I opt for <Linea Naturale>, naturally) it’s time to get fitted. If you’ve ever been measured-up by a tailor, you’ll know it’s a rather intimate process; I usually carry a box of Altoids, just in case I’m suffering from a bout of halitosis. Unsurprisingly, Armani’s in-house tailor smelt immaculate (I’m pretty sure he spritzed on a bit of the brand’s smoky new scent Eau de Nuit before our appointment), and got down to the job in hand like only an Italian can. One of the lesser-known benefits of the made-to-measure process is that you learn strange truths about your body shape. My tailor informs me my left shoulder sits slightly lower than my right, meaning my suit would need a marginally longer right arm – who knew?
For fabricophiles there are few things more pleasurable than thumbing through swatch book after swatch book of impossibly soft cloths, umming and ahhing over whether your summer suit would be better in a linen-cotton or a silk-wool mix (the former, obviously). Armani’s fabrics are arranged according to price, with suits in the simpler cottons, linens and virgin wools starting from £1,850, while those in vicuna (an incredibly soft wool from a rare Peruvian camelid) are available from a cool £50,000 — minimum. Though tempted by the good stuff (the vicuna I had a hankering for was woven with a gloriously simple windowpane check), I opt instead for a petrol grey linen herringbone, which despite being quick to crease is super-breathable and perfect for summer. One thing to note with linen, as I quickly learn, is that it’s advisable not to have your trousers cut too close to your body — too tight and they’re likely to rip when you sit down.
Complimenting the level of tailoring, the buttons available in Armani’s made-to-measure service come in either horn or mother of pearl, while jacket linings are available in a rainbow of shimmering silks. When it comes to choosing lining, I recommend keeping things simple. I select a deep turquoise with a hint of green, which works well with the dense grey herringbone of my suit. But if in doubt, it’s best to trust your tailor — I once chose a rather shiny pearlescent champagne lining to go with a navy blue wool two-piece and ended up looking like I worked for Foxtons. You have been warned.
Buttons and linings aside, the real beauty of Armani’s made-to-measure service is the acute attention to detail lavished on making every garment. The very fact that your suit takes a minimum of six weeks to make in the brand’s Italian atelier, and that clients are required to attend at least two fittings, is testament to the high quality of the finished product. Expect hand-stitched buttonholes and lapels, super-fluid inter-stitched canvases (concealed layers of goat and horse hair to help your suit hold its shape) and a personalisation service to have your name sewn into the label of your jacket.
It’s little wonder Richard Gere’s turbo-crotched gigolo did his thing in a Giorgio Armani suit — you’re not likely to get turned down in one of these bad boys.
Made-to-measure service is available from Giorgio Armani, 37 Sloane Street, London SW1; prices from £1,850.
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