Italian executive Giorgio Armani is an iconic clothing designer best known in America for his popular men’s suits.
“My vision was clear: I believed in getting rid of the artifice of clothing. I believed in neutral colors.”
Born on July 11, 1934, in Italy, Giorgio Armani is an iconic clothing designer who has expanded his empire to include restaurants and hotels. His popularity skyrocketed in America in the 1980s when his men’s ‘power suits’ appeared frequently on the television series Miami Vice and in the 1980 film American Gigolo, which starred Richard Gere in Armani’s signature garb.
Designer Giorgio Armani was born on July 11, 1934, in Piacenza, Italy. With his body-conscious yet understated clothing, Giorgio Armani has become one of the most popular names in fashion. He first launched his business empire in the mid-1970s, and it has grown substantially over the years. The Armani brand now includes makeup, housewares, books and hotels.
The son of a shipping manager, Armani grew up in a small town outside of Milan. It was a difficult time in Italian history. Giorgio and his two siblings—older brother Sergio and younger sister Rosanna—experienced the hardships of World War II firsthand. Some of his friends were killed during Allied bombings. “We were poor and life was tough,” he explained to Harper’s Bazaar. “The cinema in Milan was a refuge—a palace of dreams—and the movie stars seemed so glamorous. I fell in love with the idealized beauty of Hollywood stars.”
At an early age, Armani developed an interest in anatomy, making “dolls out of mud with a coffee bean hidden inside,” explained to the Guardian newspaper. His fascination with the human form led to two years of medical study at the University of Piacenza. Taking a break from school, Armani had to complete his required military service. He soon got his first taste of fashion. “I was doing my military service and I had 20 days off on vacation in Milan,” he explained to Time magazine. Through a friend, he got a job at a department store. “I started assisting the photographer, designing the windows and things.”
After completing his military service, Armani dropped out of university and went to work at La Rinascente, a famous Milan department store. He then joined the staff of Nino Cerruti as a designer. With the encouragement of his friend Sergio Galeotti, Armani started to do freelance design work for other companies as well.
Armani and Galeotti became business partners, founding Giorgio Armani S.p.A. in July 1975. The company’s first collection—a men’s clothing line—debuted that year. Armani launched a women’s collection the following year, which received a warm reception. His clothes were revolutionary at the time, introducing a more natural fit and using a subtle color palette. “My vision was clear: I believed in getting rid of the artifice of clothing. I believed in neutral colors,” he later told WWD.
High Demand for Armani
While his designs were popular in Europe, Armani didn’t make a big splash in America until 1980. His clothes were worn by actor Richard Gere in the film American Gigolo (1980), which helped generate a lot of interest in Armani. He also provided much of the wardrobe for the hit television series Miami Vice (1984-89), starring Don Johnson. Soon, many top Hollywood stars started wearing Armani on the red carpet, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Jodie Foster and John Travolta, among others.
During the 1980s, wearing Armani became a symbol of success for many business professionals. They especially sought out the brand’s “power suits.” With demand high, Armani and Galeotti were able to grow the business, opening up Armani stores in Milan. Armani, however, suffered a great personal and professional loss in 1985 when he lost longtime friend and business partner Galeotti to AIDS. While some thought that the business might suffer after Galeotti’s death, Armani showed the world that he was just as talented as an executive as he was as a designer.
Expanding an Empire
Armani expanded his operations, opening his first restaurant in 1989. He also bought clothing manufacturer Simint S.p.A. and shares in other businesses. Not even legal troubles could slow down Armani’s momentum. He received only a suspended sentence in 1996 after pleading guilty to bribing Italian tax officials in 1989 and 1990.
By the end of the 1990s, Armani had over 200 stores worldwide and annual sales of roughly $2 billion. His company continued to add to its product offerings, expanding into the home goods market and book publishing. In 2005, Armani debuted his first haute couture line. He launched this high-end venture because he liked the challenge. “Think how liberating it is for a designer to make one dress, perfectly, to satisfy only one customer,” he told In Style magazine. Today, Armani’s brand can be found in major department stores around the world along with 500 exclusive retail stores.
Hotels have become Armani’s latest venture. In 2010, he opened his first hotel in Dubai, and another one is expected to open in Milan. It seems that Armani has nearly tapped into every available design opportunity at this point in his career.
Despite his great success, Armani remains modest about his efforts. “I like the idea of having built this beautiful empire, but I still like to think of myself as the stable boy,” he told WWD. Several family members work for him in this vast enterprise. His sister Rosanna works at Armani as do two of his nieces, Silvana and Roberta.
With more than three decades in the business, Armani has enjoyed a longevity as a designer experienced by few others. Some compare him to such fashion greats as Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. In his 70s, Armani stands as one of fashion’s most distinguished leaders. He seems “almost presidential—wise, serene and comfortable in his role now as the reigning eminence of Milan fashion,” wrote a journalist for The New York Times.