BBC web pages‎ > ‎

Giorgio Armani: A Profile

SATURDAY 18th October 2003

Sleek as a seal, toned and tanned, Giorgio Armani is a walking totem of his own global success. Now, London's Royal Academy is celebrating the style of the man who, quite literally, knocked the stuffing out of haute couture.

"Elegance without excess"

Gianni Versace once asked of his great rival's collection, "What, not another beige suit on the runway?" But he couldn't dismiss the enduring appeal of Armani's one good idea. His understated elegance has spawned an empire worth more than $3 billion, and made Armani the world's richest fashion designer.

Although he initially embarked on a medical degree, he was working for a department store when he set about creating his own designs. With his partner, Sergio Galeotti, he launched his personal line in 1975. A year later, he produced an innovative suit jacket that sparked a fashion revolution.

By "removing the structure, creating a second skin", Armani captured a post-psychedelic zeitgeist in men's tailoring. For women, freshly powerful in the workplace but wanting to keep their femininity, he also answered the call. Sophia Loren has said, "I face an audience, and I am full of doubts. But when I wear his clothes, I have no more doubts".

Armani's Empire

In 1980, when Richard Gere perfected his urban peacock routine in American Gigolo, he did it dressed in Armani, and the designer's affair with Hollywood began. Highly tuned to the influence of celebrity on fashion, the Italian has provided outfits for everyone from Jacqui O to Mick J and, as a long-time movie-buff, dressed the stars of countless films.

His seven separate labels sell everything from sofas to sunglasses and, while other designers have sold out to corporate giants, Armani has kept control. After losing his partner to Aids in 1985, he has relied on close family members to help run his empire. He may question the future of his legacy in what he calls "a young business run by old men", but he is sartorially consistent in his pursuit of "elegance without excess".

Versace called it "dressing the mothers of Italy", but Armani's aims have always been less glittery than his rival's. He explains, "Maybe it isn't going to turn people's heads on the street, but it is something that people will, in some way, remember".