One of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century, Giorgio Armani has been universally recognized for both radically changing the rules of fashion in our time and creating an iconic vision of modern dress. By removing excess ornament from clothing and translating traditional sportswear looks into business- and eveningwear, Armani has developed the relaxed style that defines the contemporary wardrobe. Giorgio Armani, with an innovative design by Robert Wilson, presents Armani's work and celebrates his legendary career.
Born in 1934 into a humble family in Piacenza, a small town near Milan, Giorgio Armani went to the local public school and developed a love for the theater and cinema. After a short stint at the University of Milan medical school, in 1957, he took a job at the Milan department store La Rinascente. He worked briefly as an assistant photographer before accepting a promotion to its style office, where he bought and exhibited quality products from India, Japan, and the U.S., and, in so doing, helped to introduce foreign cultures to the average Italian consumer.
In 1964, without any formal training, Armani designed a line of menswear for Nino Cerruti. Encouraged by his partner Sergio Galeotti, Armani left Cerruti and in 1970 became a freelance fashion designer and consultant. He soon made his mark. In 1973-74, at the prestigious Sala Bianca fashion show in Florence, he presented to great acclaim bomber jackets that treated leather as a regular, everyday fabric. This penchant for using materials in unexpected contexts and combinations came to be known as a defining characteristic of his genius.
In 1975, Armani and Galeotti started their own company, Giorgio Armani S.p.A., and founded the Armani label. That July, Armani launched a revolution in fashion with his unlined and unconstructed man's jacket. Completely loose and informal, the blazer offered sensual hints of the body beneath, marking a major departure from, on the one hand, the stuffy suits that straitjacketed men in the 1960s, and, on the other, the sartorial abandon of the hippie generation. The rumpled jacket was an immediate success, and a new breed of tailoring was born. Three months later, he unveiled an unstructured jacket for women. Made with traditional menswear fabrics, it was as simple and soft as the man's and bore a masculine authority. With this alternative to long, flower-child skirts and classic French tailleurs, Armani joined Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel as an emancipator of women's fashion.
In the 1980s, the exquisitely tailored Armani "power suit" for men and women came to symbolize an era of international economic boom. With broad padded shoulders and widened lapels, the look was inspired by the glamour of 1940s Hollywood. Paul Schrader's film American Gigolo (1980) exemplified this trademark combination of power and sensuality with the now-famous scene in which Richard Gere pulls from his closet and dances with an extravagance of shirts, jackets, and ties as he chooses the perfect ensemble. The film secured Armani's fame with the general public and marked the beginning of a long and fruitful history of collaboration on films, most recently John Singleton's remake of Shaft (2000). Armani has also created costumes for theater, opera, and dance.
In 1982, Armani became the first fashion designer to appear on the cover of Time magazine since Christian Dior in the 1940s. He was one of the first designers to approach celebrities to wear his designs, beginning with then-Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley in 1988. Armani also invited Hollywood stars to wear his designs at the Academy Awards, winning devotees such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster. Today Armani extends his talent diversely, dressing Italian and English soccer teams and Alitalia airline flight attendants.
Giorgio Armani offers a thematic look at the designer's evolution and contribution to fashion and culture over the last 25 years. Garments from various periods are presented in narrative clusters to express motifs that are visible throughout Armani's career. Spectacular eveningwear and interpretations of the tuxedo for women introduce Armani's oeuvre. Also featured is the understated daywear that first made the designer's reputation. Many of these fashions, inspired by the cool clothes and warm colors of the North African desert, illustrate Armani's signature sandy or "greige" neutral palette. Examples of sensual, body-conscious suits for men highlight Armani's noted androgynous look, along with masculinized jackets for women that evoke Marlene Dietrich (an important influence on Armani's embrace of suiting for women). This modern style is tempered by the romance of tradition and historical fashion, with references to the Directoire and Empire periods and the Belle Epoque. These garments are presented in conjunction with selections of spectacular beaded and embroidered ensembles inspired by dress and textiles from a range of non-Western cultures including China, India, and Polynesia. Armani's interest in the East is underscored by his minimalist approach to both day- and eveningwear, which strips exotic dress to a sophisticated yet practical simplicity, and the use of Japanese elements is directly visible in his interpretations of the traditional kimono and samurai or oroyoi armor.
Armani has described his clothes as costumes for the world stage; Giorgio Armani presents many of the personae that Armani has offered. On view are selected cinema costumes as well as clothes familiar from the red carpet, worn for the Academy Awards and other ceremonies that have become synonymous with the glamour and cultural power of Armani. A small group of sketches complements advertising photography and clips from films that Armani has costumed to yield a fuller picture of how the designer sees his own creations and how they are interpreted by others.
Armani's look continues to evolve even as it maintains its sleek, refined aesthetic. His more recent designs return to a streamlined silhouette, with the same body-consciousness that informed his first innovative efforts. The style that established him as a celebrated symbol of the 20th century is a harmonious balance of contradictions: the modern and the traditional, East and West, black and white, the old and the new, the functional and the fanciful, the elegant and the casual. His style is sophisticated yet prêt-à-porter, conveying a relaxed confidence, a sobriety and refinement, a sensuality with a democratic mission. To acquire an Armani suit has become a rite of passage, a symbol of success sought or won. The very name Armani has become a talisman, a sign of the designer's wide appeal and integration into everyday life.
Through a dramatic combination of light, sound, and architectural elements, internationally acclaimed artist and designer Robert Wilson has transformed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao into a spectacular environment in which to experience Armani's creations. Wilson's work, firmly rooted in the fine arts, integrates a wide variety of media and makes use of imagery that is both aesthetically striking and emotionally charged. Wilson's drawings and sculptures have been shown widely, and in 1993 he received the Golden Lion for sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Wilson's 1976 collaboration with Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach, achieved international success and altered conventional perceptions of opera as an art form. His honors for theatrical work include the Pulitzer Prize in drama for the CIVIL warS, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for Lifetime Achievement, and the Harvard Excellence in Design Award. Previous collaborations with Armani include 1996's "GA Story," a tribute to Armani and presentation of his Spring 1997 collections, and Wilson's 1998 production of The Woman from the Sea, for which Armani created costumes.
Organized by: Germano Celant and Harold Koda
with Susan Cross, Lisa Panzera, and Karole Vail
Designed by: Robert Wilson
Music: Michael Galasso