By Emily Backus | October 16, 2015 | Style & Beauty
After 40 years in the biz, Giorgio Armani builds a shrine to his indelible influence on contemporary fashion and celebrates with two new signature collections.
Giorgio Armani as photographed by Robert Krieger in the 1980s.
Armani/Silos, Giorgio Armani’s new permanent exhibition space in Milan, is full of slim, beautiful women. Many are professional models, and all are dressed in revealing haute fashions: a semitransparent, flesh-colored jumpsuit with a plunging back-line; a crystal-studded, tight-bodiced, full-skirted black tulle cocktail dress…. The occasion is a party, in late April, honoring the Italian designer and what may be his biggest year to date: the 40th anniversary of his eponymous fashion house, the grand opening of Armani/Silos, and a new collection whose name could denote Armani’s aesthetic influence in the fashion world today: the New Normal.
At a certain point, a phalanx of dark-suited men enters the party. Embedded deep within his imposing entourage, Leonardo DiCaprio strides through with a serious expression. His beard and long hair, gathered in a knot at his nape, make the actor stand out among both the other male guests, who adhere to a near-militaristic aesthetic rigor, and the sirens dressed to the nines. The meticulously directed celebration welcomed other A-list devotees of Armani: Tom Cruise, Glenn Close, and Cate Blanchett were all in attendance, much of their night spent posing for throngs of photographers packed behind metal barriers. Other longtime enthusiasts of both the man and the brand, among them Sophia Loren, Tina Turner, and Lauren Hutton, also attended a catwalk roundup of Armani’s 10-year foray into haute couture, featuring more than 90 looks and 11 themes. A party the night before at Armani’s members-only Milan club, Privé, was deejayed by Boy George. But while the festivities were meant as a celebration, they also held a retrospective spirit, honoring Armani’s indelible influence on haute couture over the past four decades.
The designer has described his role in fashion as a “scenographer, director, interpreter, and costume designer of contemporary reality.” As a child he dreamed of becoming a film director. Appropriately, his long, close ties to the entertainment industry, first forged by dressing Richard Gere in the 1980 film American Gigolo, have become a major channel of cultural influence.
The second-floor Color Schemes gallery in the Armani/Silos exhibition space.
“All the events that positively affected my career took place at the same time, without being calculated or planned. I met American Gigolo director Paul Schrader quite by accident,” Armani told Vegas in an exclusive interview. “A fun fact is that the clothes worn by Richard Gere in the film were not designed specifically for him—they were from a collection. You could find them in boutiques once the film was released.”
For Harold Koda, the word that sums up Giorgio Armani’s early work is “sprezzatura”—a term that comes from Baldassare Castiglione’s 1528 Renaissance tome The Book of the Courtier, meaning “a certain nonchalance,” the ability to “display an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions, making it appear almost without any thought.”
“American Gigolo had Richard Gere as its star, but Armani’s clothes were the real unsung protagonist,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “There are scenes of Gere just luxuriating in fabulous clothes, simply pulling clothes out of the closet and laying them out, [scenes] that don’t advance the plot.” It’s a testament to the sex appeal the designer imbued not only into his menswear but menswear in general.
“Starting with the wardrobe of [Gere’s] character, Julian Kay,” says Steele, “Armani showed audiences a dignified alternative to anti-establishment fashion excesses such as flared pants, winglike lapels, and high-waisted polyester suits. [He showed] escape, too, from the stiff tailoring of traditional suits typical of Savile Row. Instead, Armani’s designs doled out sexy, easy elegance in less structured garments that f lowed over the body in a sensual, flattering way.”
“[Armani] not only relaxed the suit; he made it a sexier garment,” agrees Harold Koda, curator-in-charge of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and co-curator of the landmark Giorgio Armani retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 2000. For Armani, “textiles are as important as the cut,” says Koda, but adjusting proportions—the breadth of a jacket’s shoulders, the width of its lapels—is “where he plays master at revisiting codes of menswear.”
Glenn Close, Giorgio Armani, and Lauren Hutton.
“I [have always been] interested in breaking old dress codes,” says the 81-year-old designer. A 40thanniversary capsule tuxedo collection highlights Armani’s deftness at simultaneously subverting and respecting those codes. The tuxedos come in three fits that seem aimed at a trifecta of personalities: classic, dégagé (meaning relaxed or casual in French), and innovative. Men in the last category can enjoy traditional black suits woven with subtle patterns, like dégradé (colors gradually shaded instead of clearly demarcated) polka dots or camouflage. The palette has also been expanded beyond traditional black to vintage midnight blue—popular at the turn of the 20th century, according to Koda—while the bow ties feature micropatterns.
“The tuxedo is a very particular outfit: Its look can’t be completely revolutionized, so updating it is a very delicate operation,” says Armani, who adds that the woven designs “create a surprising blurred effect.”
For Armani, it’s not so much about revolutionizing formal-wear itself, but changing its perception. The designer has said numerous times that his greatest achievement in fashion has been seducing men back to embracing the suit: “I am very proud to have convinced men that a tailored suit is not a costume but a garment that can make you feel stylish and comfortable at the same time.”
The designer’s new line of contemporary classic womenswear, called New Normal, which was created for the fashion house’s 40th anniversary and introduced to Armani boutiques in June, operates on the same principles. “New Normal is the very essence of my work: classic and contemporary at the same time, definitely timeless,” says Armani. “It focuses on people, not on clothes.”
“I think that now more than ever, with the proliferation of passing fads, women need some more clarity on how to dress, something that is not dogmatic and that they can personalize according to their own taste,” he adds. “I condensed it into a wardrobe of perfectly tailored, timeless pieces that are easy to wear and interpret every day.”
A look from Giorgio Armani’s New Normal collection.
The New Normal collection focuses on daywear in fluid and sleek cuts crafted from refined fabrics. It places Armani’s iconic trouser suit, made in various shapes, materials, and fits, at its center. The collection also has crossover pieces for evening, like a trench coat in black velvet and a satin top, and includes shoes and bags in precious materials like crocodile and sophisticated hues such as cognac, dark green, and ice. Its DNA is entirely Armani—a fidelity to classic elegance and simple forms, all interpreted through his inimitable eye.
The afternoon before the celeb-studded party, Armani/Silos had a much more calm and reverent feel. Between the flocks of guests, Armani’s soft, genteel, sophisticated daywear—in the designer’s signature “greige” color, plus other luminous neutrals—fitted onto ghostlike mannequins, stood out in subtle but powerful contrast to the massive, minimalist, raw cement walls on the space’s ground floor. Among the collections were a number of exemplars of the fluid, flattering trousered power suit that has empowered a generation of women to stand shoulder to shoulder with men in the workplace without sacrificing elegance or femininity. The yin-yang pairing of these outfits exalts the gentle androgyny of the women’s clothes and the sensual masculinity of the men’s, but also the consistency of the designer’s methods across gender lines—his play on clean, traditional dressing codes by tweaking proportions as well as combining textures, colors, and patterns in soft, light, noble materials. Armani himself doesn’t underestimate the significance of the work.
“My revolution, if we want to call it that, has always moved in two directions,” he says. “On the one hand, I tried to lighten lines and structures. On the other, I renewed materials and introduced a soft and cozy kind of rigor.” It’s a legacy now cataloged with a similar kind of rigor throughout Armani/Silos. The soaring five-story space, built in a former industrial granary, houses 600 ready-to-wear outfits reaching back to 1980 and 200 accessories, as well as a digital archive of Armani’s designs. In line with its exhibit-like purpose, the outfits are grouped by theme rather than chronology.
From the men’s evening capsule collection.
“I designed Armani/Silos by combining its original purpose—a storage silo—with my personal idea of creating an exhibition space that was not a museum,” Armani explains. “The Silos [are] a container in which I have collected my work of the last 40 years. Evoking the concept of food, which [is necessary] for life, I conceived it as a living space, where scholars and enthusiasts could analyze and reconstruct the way I work, hoping that my example will inspire more stories of success in the future.”
The second floor is populated with exotic, non-Western styles—especially in eveningwear—that borrow from the Far East and Africa: collarless Punjabi shirts, Pakistani tunics, African kaftans, Chinese cheongsam-style dresses, Japanese kimono jackets, sarong pants from Southeast Asia. The third floor takes visitors through Armani’s varied and vivid palette, far beyond his famous “noncolors.” The clothing on the last floor, called “light,” explores his use of whites and light reflection.
“Armani/Silos is beautiful because it is absolutely not rhetorical,” says Piero Lissoni, a renowned furniture designer who attended the opening. “You feel real energy through the strength of the architecture and the strength of the culture of Armani’s work. It is a super-condensed history of [his] day-to-day world for the last 40 years.”
It is also a synthesis and testimony to the endurance of Armani’s work, as is the New Normal womenswear line. “I have always spoken to and was chosen by people who share my vision for a sophisticated, understated style,” says Armani. “I think that we are currently being overloaded with visual stimuli and that fashion has become excessive. Having a dressing norm is an expression of dignity. It helps you focus on what really matters.” That is, elegance, comfort, sophistication, an honoring of past, present, and future equally. In essence, the Armani philosophy. Giorgio Armani, The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-904- 7741; Via Bellagio, 702-893-8327