Italy is widely known as one of fashion’s most prolific scenes, and to be considered its most successful designer is no easy feat. Born in Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna in 1934, Giorgio Armani has amassed a personal fortune, created a global brand known for elegance and taste, and inspired many designers with his clean, tailored lines that helped inspire red-carpet fashion.
Though Armani would form his own company in 1975, after beginnings as a window dresser at La Rinascente, designing men’s fashion at Cerruti and freelance work with the likes of Allegri, Bagutta, Sicons, Montedoro, and Tendresse, it was the 1980’s that launched the Armani brand. Building his company, Giorgio Armani S.P.A. in Milan, the in-demand designer was now free to pursue his own inspirations.
Armani formed a strategic partnership with Gruppo Finanziario Tessile through a 1978 agreement that allowed him to produce luxury, ready-to-wear lines in a manufacturing environment under the supervision of the company’s designer. In 1979, Armani turned his eyes to the United States and couldn’t have picked a better time.
The wild ride of Wall Street made him a household name among high-roller stockbrokers and stylish men in public positions.
After the harsh 1970’s that saw recession and gloom dominate the headlines in America, the 1980’s was full of promise, opportunity, and greed. Armani was known in Europe but it was the wild ride of Wall Street that made him a household name among high-roller stockbrokers and stylish men in public positions. From Gordon Gekko wannabes to the slick look of then-LA Lakers head coach Pat Riley, the Armani name was now on the runway of pop culture and the label alone conjured style, success, and sophistication.
Armani didn’t sit back on his laurels. In the early 1980’s, he became a leading name in international fashion with G.A. Le Collezioni, Giorgio Armani Underwear and Swimwear, and Giorgio Armani Accessories. His next big coup occurred in 1982 when he penned an important agreement with dominant fragrance brand L’Oreal. The deal called for Armani to produce perfumes and fragrances during this era. He also stayed busy by launching Armani Junior, Armani Jeans, and Emporio Armani. He opened a new store in Milan and a Giorgio Armani boutique to strike while the iron was hot, both on the design boards and with his name going global.
Some designers spend most of their time behind the scenes but an exceptional few have the look and flair to step into the spotlight and become the literal face of the brand. Armani, with his ubiquitous tan, chiseled features and stylish, white hair cut a perfect figure for a legendary designer and played up the role to perfection.
Even with his growing success, Armani looked for new vehicles to promote both his name and brand. In 1980, he lent his skills for costume design in Richard Gere’s breakout role in American Gigolo and in 1987, he designed all the outfits for the Hollywood period-piece hit The Untouchables. The outfits caught the critic’s eye and all roads led back to Armani. From here, Armani would expand to Japan and launched a line of eyeglasses, socks, and a gift collection.
Though the 1980’s U.S. stock market bull rush would crash in 1987, Armani was immune. While out-of-work stockbrokers couldn’t afford his impeccable suits, many newcomers could.
Armani’s keen eye for branding is one of the traits that have kept him successful while other designers have faltered.
The 1990’s would see Armani continue his expansion, this time with sportswear, watches, and cosmetics. In 2000, he celebrated the 25th Anniversary of his brand with investment activity and new manufacturing capacity intended to increase his control over the quality and distribution of his products. When Armani puts his name on something, from pin-stripe suits to underwear, he demands his level of perfection.
Armani would score another pop-culture hit when he got legendary guitarist Eric Clapton to wear his clothes and compose new songs for his fashion shows. Armani’s keen eye for branding is one of the traits that have kept him successful while other designers have faltered. And when he had Clapton on board, Armani took aim at the Chinese market, opening a flagship store in Shanghai in 2004 and made plans for major expansions.
A quiet man in terms of personal life, little is known about Armani’s private doings. Rumors have hinted at a long-standing relationship with Sergio Galeotti, but nothing was ever confirmed. Armani will lend his look and name for fashion but prefers to keep “Armani, the man” out of the gossip columns.
Now at the age of 82, Armani has time to reflect on his successful career and his future ambitions. Armani is not the type to comprehend retirement and there is no shortage of brands and luminaries willing to work with the man who pioneered several fashion innovations.
He was the first designer to ban models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of below 18 after model Ana Carolina Reston died due to lifelong struggles with Anorexia Nervosa. Armani also harnessed the power of the Internet, choosing to broadcast his new collections through live streaming, starting with his 2007 Armani Privé Spring/Summer show. He partnered with Samsung to launch the Giorgio Armani phone and has outfitted many star-studded celebrities including Lady Gaga, and both the presenters of the 52nd Grammy Awards and the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.
A visionary, an unparalleled designer and a master at letting others do his marketing —from the Wall Street elite to the superstars of music— Armani has stitched his name into the fabric of fashion history. It’s a wonder that fashion can even keep up.