The Sunday Telegraph | September 2011
For Decades, Giorgio Armani has remained Loyal to A philosophy of Shape And Tailoring this season’s collection of suits is true to form.
by Marion Hume
‘Silhouettes must evolve slowly, so that an upcoming season never renders the one that has gone before redundant. Fabrics must be both sensual to touch yet tough enough to endure.’
Such sound sartorial sense may sound like the latest quote from a minimalist such as Celine’s Phoebe Philo. But it was Giorgio Armani who said this in 1991, when I interviewed him for a BBC TV series called The Look. Judging by e-mails I’ve been receiving since 10 magazine posted links to is on an online blog, The Look is currently gathering an audience of those barely born when it was new. Amazingly Armani’s clothes still look current- adjust the shoulder pads a little and his jackets could walk off the screen and out onto the street without looking remotely ‘vintage’.
As a combination of great tailoring and good taste returns to the centre of fashion, it is Giorgio Armani’s turn yet again, and the 77-year-old’s collections have been garnering rave reviews. While those who work within the Armani universe, headquartered in a palazzo in Milan, might argue Commendatore Armani has stayed in style since the label was launched in 1975, his understated refinements of the jacket, first for men, then, in 1976, for women, have been both fashionable and, inevitably, less so in turn over the years. There have certainly been times when the designer himself has criticised the competition as ‘motlo porno’ or ‘‘troppo Joan Collins’. Now, he might argue, the rest of us have returned to our senses.
What is also certain is that at no point has the Giorgio Armani brand-its start-up costs funded by the sale of a Volkswagen Beetle-ever stopped advancing hence a fortune which Forbes puts at $7bn (March 2011). The Armani empire is now vast, comprising sleek stores around the globe, underpants promoted via the buff body of Rafael Nadal, hotel rooms, even chocolates…Yet the central pillar that supports it all is a jacket, created by this architect of the power suit, who, paradoxically, changed the way men and women dress for work by knocking the stiffness clean out of it.
‘Jackets had a rigidity that made them awkward to wear’, he says of the mid-Seventies. ‘My idea was to take them apart, then put them together again, removing the structure, the padding and the lining reconfiguring them with all the easy comfort of a knitted cardigan.’
Today Giorgio Armani stands as a style colossus, the creator of a democratic uniform which cuts across class and geographical divides. Of course, it requires substantial cash to own a real Armani (slightly less for Emporio Armani), but his influence is writ large even on those imitations where the colour and the weave of the fabric have nothing like his subtlety and quality.
‘After my first collection for men, my sister and her friends asked me to design similarly deconstructed but impeccably cut jackets for them as well,’ he says today, explaining the genesis of his signature look. ‘I went on to offer women an alternative to clothes that imprisoned them in a confined ‘baby doll’ role.’
I saw my first Armani show in the mid-Eighties and I was blown away by the unadorned beauty. But as more seasons of beige perfection went by, the impact inevitably diminished. At the time, his understated and elegant approach was also in stark contrast to the ostentatious sexiness of one of his closer neighbours, and the press delighted in comparing Giorgio (northern Italian, sedate) with Gianni Versace (southern and then at the height of his women-as-courtesan obsession).
But Armani insists that tailoring can seduce, and that his is ‘a sensuality that is hinted at, never shouted out loud’. He explains: ‘When I design a suit, I like to give it a sexy edge, firstly through the choice of fabric, but most importantly through the balance of proportion and volume that often reveals the beauty of a woman”s anatomy better than nudity.’
From the vantage point of Armani’s autumn/winter 2011 reviews, this may seem credible, but 25 years ago it was easy to see him as an austere perfectionist. Stories circulated in the press of his obsession, like how he insisted the hangers in his stores were always exactly the same distance apart. Now we are used to the attention to detail of Tom Ford and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, that sounds so fashion-normal. Sadly, back then, the fashion press was so busy refined in front of our eyes was a category piece that would stand the test of time alongside Chanel tailleur and the YSL tux. And then came Hollywood.
Armani was the first to assess the massive brand-building potential of the red-carpet, back when Cher was in feathers, Meryl Streep in some gown she brought on the way to the ceremony and Jodie Foster on the ‘worst-dressed’ list. In the space of a year, Armani moved in and Foster was ‘best-dressed’ in a beaded tuxedo and the US magazine W replaced its famous ‘In/Out’ list by one headed ‘Armani/Armani Not’. Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Ross, Angelica Huston, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro all wore Armani.
That Armani always appeals to grown-ups may, of course, be due to the fact that he was 40 in 1975 when he launched his own label along with his partner Sergio Galeotti (who died in 1985). While it was his self-taught talent, refined first as a window-dresser, then as a freelance designer, that set Armani style agenda from day one, the fact that the company earned $1m in its first year was largely down to Galeotti’s business acumen and considerable chutzpah.
By 1976, Fred Pressman, who was at the helm of Barney’s New York, tracked the pair down via the Milan telephone directory. By 1977, the Giorgio Armani label was being stocked on America’s West Coast, too, attracting the attention of screenwriter Paul Schrader, who was working on a follow-up to Taxi-Driver that would centre on a male escort. Would Armani be interested in costuming John Travolta? Then Travolta pulled out of American Gigolo. Enter a young buck called Richard Gere.
1n 2000, two decades after the film’s eventual release, at the opening of a 25-year Giorgio Armani retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York, I wandered into a side gallery where clips from the many movies for which Armani has designed the clothes over the years were played on a loop. And there was Richard Gere, grey around the temples, still gorgeous, watching his cocky younger self in fashion’s number-one-all-time-favourite film clip- working out what Armani shirt, what Armani tie, goes with what. It’s the most glamourous image of a man getting ready to go to work.
The interesting this is Giorgio Armani will probably be remembered for creating a new wardrobe for the working woman. ‘Throughout the Seventies, I saw women establishing their right to a personal status beyond the family environment, often in a professional capacity,’ he says. ‘At that time, they did not have an aesthetic model to emulate. My aim was to find a positive sartorial solution to this problem, adapting certain elements of the male wardrobe, softening the lines and aiming for a balance between precision and delicacy. In short, I was determined to provide clothes for a new kind of woman.’ So this was fashion as a social statement? ‘It is all a long time ago, but there can be no doubting the significance of my small revolution concerning the jacket.‘
Back in 1991, in the interview for The Look, he said, ‘The jacket obscures, the jacket suggests. It’s mysterious. It’s protection, a shield, a kind of armour to help you survive modern life. A dress reveals too much. You see a woman in a dress, you know how she is made. The jacket conceals and gives you shape.’ This season’s elegant offerings make it obvious that the maestro of minimalism still stands by that.
The AFR Magazine December 2010
Story by Marion Hume
What is old is new again, and the advantage for me, racking up fashion years (which multiply at twice the speed of dog years, by the way) is that I’ve been round this circuit before. What’s the biggest trend right now? The seventies. Where did my fashion consciousness awake? Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive and wearing leg warmers.
In the 1980s, some fashion wag dubbed the ‘70s, “the decade that style forgot”, which stuck, although it was wrong. In fact, the ‘70s were rich and diverse. In just ten years, I dressed my teens through hippy, glam rock, disco, punk and then, at last came chic, as captured with the ultimate ‘70s movie “American Gigolo” (it came out in 1980, but it was made in 1978).
Paul Schrader’s movie, which opens with a scene that succeeds in making even the Los Angeles freeway look glorious, wasn’t a hit in Kyoto, Japan or, if it was, Akira Isogawa – who despite still looking annoyingly youthful was very much alive in the ‘70s – managed to miss it. So, on his recent trip to London, I felt duty-bound to re-rig the video recorder (how clever to have kept that hidden away) and soon we were listening to the soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder and I was trying quite hard not to sing along to Blondie’s “Call Me”.
Much has been made of the scene in which Richard Gere prances around like a latter-day dandy (or, to be accurate, just like the male hooker of the title role), matching “griege” shirts with beige ties as if that were hard.
This is the fashion world’s no. 1. favourite movie clip and certainly, I will never forget watching it WITH Richard Gere (gray around the temples, even more handsome) at the Giorgio Armani retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York a few years’ ago. When I say I watched it with Gere, there were only four people in a room at the museum in which the high points of Armani’s movie successes were being projected on a vast screen. Alas, I must concede that Gere is unlikely to reminisce about me being there, but watching him watch himself was a thrill all the same.
But I realised, re-watching the celebrated scene with Isogawa instead that the familiar version has actually being clipped; this to omit the opening where Gere scrapes his finger through a mountain of cocaine and rubs it vigorously into his gums before he begins the Herculean task of working out what he’s going to wear. Since 1978, there have been moments at Armani shows when a little lift would not have gone amiss, but despite all you hear about us drug-addled fashionistas, I’ve never seen anyone go that far since.
While Gere gets the glory, actually, it is Lauren Hutton who fascinates in the movie now. Hutton began the ‘70s as both gap-toothed girl next door and the world’s first supermodel and ended them (lucky her) kissing Gere and wearing satin blouses which look so utterly “now”. While Gere’s outfits changed menswear in what was then the future (think of a Hollywood agent in the ‘80s and you’ll imagine him wearing a beige Armani suit), Hutton’s outfits were a sartorial lament to a softness that was already disappearing and has taken 30 years to return. In between, womenswear has had a harder edge, starting with the “me me me” styles of the ’80s.
Why is softness back? It’s partly due to the achievements of a band of women who prefered dungarees when Hutton was wearing grey silk and who manned the barricades to fight for the equality we all now enjoy by law. Today’s designers – many of them women – are, largely, the first generation to be the children of working mothers and they are working mothers themselves.
Hence the 70s looks at Celine, Chloe, McCartney. But who I wonder, is going to reissue the fabulous soft trench coat Hutton slips off in the movie? We’ll have to wait for next season’s shows for that.
A guide to the 1970s
Think the Seventies was all about the maxi-dress? Think again. From slick pantsuits to the delicate crepe dresses of Yves Saint Laurent, via the punky pins of rockers’ garbs, this diverse decade has influenced a roll-call of designers for autumn.
BY MARION HUME | 05 OCTOBER 2010
Why are Seventies styles all over the stores right now and, judging by the current round of catwalk shows, staying around next season? Given the original styles were so diverse, there is no short answer. But try these explanations for starters.
Silhouettes and soundtracks
It’s easier to spell out the vast range of looks through sounds of the Seventies. Think Isaac Hayes’s theme from Shaft ; now think Slade; now the Jackson Five; Abba; Rod Stewart; and Bob Marley. If you are old enough, was it Ziggy Stardust segueing into The Sex Pistols for you? Or David Cassidy to Bruce Springsteen? T-Rex to the Jam? Cher’s Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves to The Hustle ?
“The fundamental difference now is the focus on luxe,” says Bridget Cosgrave, fashion director of Matches. Her Seventies memory? “My mother wafting around in silk kaftans to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love .”
It’s all about your mother
The most influential collection of the Seventies – and as important now – was Yves Saint Laurent’s reinvention of memories of his mother, Lucienne, in the crêpe dresses, palazzo pantsuits and platform sandals she wore in the Algerian sun when he was a boy in the Forties. Unfortunately, those styles reminded fashion scribes at his 1971 show of the Nazi occupation of Paris. But just as the old guard hated the collection, the young, like Paloma Picasso, adored it. Those silhouettes were worn by Linda McCartney, the late mother of Stella McCartney, who is in turn now influenced by her mother. As is Phoebe Philo by hers.
“It’s striking how a crop of principally British, thirtysomething designers are re-exploring the easy, chic clothing their mothers once wore,” says Penny Martin, editor-in-chief of the trendy magazine, The Gentlewoman . “Several of them – Phoebe Philo at Céline and Stella McCartney, for instance – are now working mothers themselves and recognise the need for clothes that don’t make them look idiotic. The palette – caramels, flesh tones, pragmatic black and white – as well as generous silhouettes inspire confidence and warmth in those wearing them. Women genuinely look and feel great in these clothes.”
Many designers were teenagers in the Seventies, and you never forget your first fashion love. A 17-year-old Tom Ford moved to New York City just as Halston was at his height. At Ford’s womenswear comeback this September, “the ambience of the showing was pure Halston,” says Kate Betts, contributing editor to Time .
Marc Jacobs was familiar with the best designs of the Seventies; aged 15, he started working at Charivari, then Manhattan’s most cutting-edge boutique. Meanwhile, Stefano Gabbana was yearning to afford more than just the stickers at Milan’s Fiorucci. Albert Kriemler now helms his family’s label, Akris. When he was a teen, his father was producing clothes for the ultimate Seventies label, Ted Lapidus – clothes which influence the slim silhouettes in mustard and burgundy in Kriemler’s collections today.
First love never dies for the shopper, too. In 1976, Mimma Viglezio looked so great in her Lee Cooper burgundy corduroy flares, she won the “Miss Arse” competition at her Swiss high school. “It really was called that,” insists the former executive vice-president of Gucci Group, who is now a leading luxury world consultant, adding, “I still love high-waisted flares. When you are not 16 any more and your tummy is not quite so flat, a high waist is more flattering than risking a muffin top!”
Karen Walker, the designer, was in Auckland rather than New York when CBGB and Studio 54 were at their zenith. “But I love the Seventies as the last age of underground hedonism,” she says. Although the influence of punk has been enormous – there were studs, leather and zips at Balmain last week, set against the sound of Sid Vicious doing My Way – it was a fashion blip at the time. In 1977, Zandra Rhodes somehow made safety pins sweet, but real punks wore Millets and DIY, which is why the rare few who could afford Westwood/McClaren items have since sold them for a fortune.
The thrill of the old
It was in the Seventies that fashion’s looking-backward-to-go-forward dynamic kicked off. In 1971, Cecil Beaton curated an exhibition at the V&A called Fashion, An Anthology , which celebrated styles of previous decades and had the knock-on effect of making wearing vintage smart.
“Today, dealers charge up to £100 for rare and beautiful clothes in perfect condition,” wrote a surprised Georgina Howell in 1975. “Now, in London, you can find a whole range of fashion within a stone’s throw – tweedy, ethnic, Hollywood, classic, glamorous, executive, nostalgic…” Should you be in search of Seventies originals, you’re too late; designer scouts long ago scooped up “inspirational” YSL pie-crust cuff satin blouses. Look for lesser-known labels such as Stephen Burrows or bang-on-the-ethnic-trend Mexicana – Princess Anne packed a Mexicana gown for her 1973 honeymoon.
So to answer how to get the look, well, which look exactly? To narrow it down, you could rent the right films. Everything Julie Christie wears in Don’t Look Now (1973) looks right. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), although set in 1937, features Faye Dunaway looking very Céline. If you want a Gallic twist, try the early work of French actress Dominique Sanda.
Then there is Lauren Hutton, who began the Seventies as the multi-million-dollar model girl next door, and ended it looking as if she was about to be crushed by the hard-edged Eighties. American Gigolo (made in 1978, released in 1980) is best remembered because Richard Gere’s wardrobe kick-started Giorgio Armani’s dominance in menswear, but it’s Hutton’s flicky hair, blouses and leg-elongating nude mules that are so very now.