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If the clothes he designed were not so superb, the show in the new Burlington Gardens space of the Royal Academy might look like something of a publicity stunt. In 2001, when this exhibition opened at the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue, open season was declared on the museum not only for its involvement with a show which was overtly commercial but also for accepting a reputed $15m dollar gift from Armani. Indeed, the tone of the catalogue borders on reverential – pages of the sumptuous and almost unliftably heavy book are devoted to hymns of praise by Hollywood stars who have walked the red carpet wearing his dresses and tuxedos. Armani’s career encompasses clothing design, cinema, interiors, photography and costume design for the stage, all of which media

You have to hand it to Giorgio Armani.

feed into a brand which has been quietly bringing up the rearguard of chic since the 1970s. Born in the northern city of Piacenza in 1934, he began in fashion in the late 1960s, working for Cerruti in Milan, later taking on the very modern role of consultant for a series of clothing labels, including Ermenegildo Zegna and Loewe, which he continued to perform even after he had set up his own company in 1975. His first collection, in 1976, had some of those elements that later became trademarks: the use of traditional menswear fabrics in womenswear and natural-coloured linen and cotton. By 1978, he was getting into his stride, designing loose, informal men’s suits that incorporated a cardigan as the third piece, and using unconventional materials and forms, such as leather to make shirtjackets. In the 1980s, Armani avoided the strident colours – such as

Above: Installation view of the 2000-1 Giorgio Armani exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York




Revered by many, Giorgio Armani has had a long and influential career as a fashion designer. Polly Chiapetta analyses what makes his clothes so appealing

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