Giorgio Armani: 40 Years In The Business

The Italian designer celebrates four decades at the top

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Julian Kaye, Richard Gere’s character in American Gigolo, was a renaissance man, or at least a renaissance male escort. He was cultured, tasteful, spoke six languages and was impeccably well-dressed. Famously, that last attribute was thanks to Giorgio Armani: the 1980 film was as much a springboard for the designer as it was for the actor. 

“When I started my adventure in fashion,” recalls Armani, “I had no real expectations, only a great passion and strong conviction I had something real and personal to say.”

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After studying medicine, completing military service and dropping out of university, Armani worked as a window dresser. He moved on to menswear sales, and by his mid-twenties was designing under Nino Cerruti.

Jobs with Zegna and Loewe followed but by 1975, his own Giorgio Armani SpA was in business. The initial years were good but with Gere modelling his relaxed, billowy, boldly shaded tailoring to an audience of millions, things skyrocketed. Armani’s designs offered a tonic to the trend for padded, boxy suiting and showed men (and women) that in order to look good, they needn’t truss themselves up.

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“Over the years, I have strived to create a lightweight suit. Not only in terms of tailoring, but also metaphorically speaking: a suit that follows the body’s natural contours, with no stiffness. I think this is what men really want. And they want it more and more,” Armani says.

As the decades have passed, “what men really want”, has evolved, and Armani is right to claim influence. “I think I have played a role in this change. Men have gradually broken out of a rigid, conventional mould and forced dress code, discovering naturalness,” he says. “Today, we are seeing the blending of formal wear with sportswear. We have been working in this direction for some time now.”

It’s not just tailoring he’s been pioneering. For example, the current bomber jacket vogue can be traced to Armani: the first pieces he designed under his own name were bomber jackets. Today, the brand includes the ready-to-wear and Emporio lines, leather goods, watches, accessories, eyewear, cosmetics, home interiors, hotels and even confectionery. In 2012, the annual revenue for Armani Group reached £1.67bn. This year, he celebrates 40 years in fashion. He is the most successful Italian designer ever.

Looking back through the seasons, you could take your pick for something that typifies Armani’s methodology, but a raglan jacket from A/W ’14 is as good as any. It’s slim-cut, available in a range of colours and fabrics and comes in single or double-breasted form. But the real art lies in the freedom of movement afforded by the cut of the shoulders.

“Italians are naturally inclined to appreciate all things beautiful. They know how to be sensual and natural, and I certainly feel these aspects belong to my own style,” Armani says. “I hope I have made an important contribution to creating a new kind of elegance, which is rational, comfortable and reasonable. Helping Italian fashion evolve and break away from its previous rules.”

At 80, Giorgio Armani is still the sole shareholder of his company, worth more than £4.5bn and reportedly, his wardrobe in Milan is so big, it has 48 doors. An octogenarian, yes, but one who still stands at the thumping epicentre of international style, and clearly, one still enjoying his “adventure in fashion”.