- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

MILAN, Italy Giorgio Armani is celebrating 25 years as a fashion designer, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is marking the event with an exhibition.
"I see this exhibit as a beginning, not a retrospective," Mr. Armani says during a quiet moment at the opening of his new superstore in the heart of downtown Milan. He sits on a slightly rigid couch, part of a new furniture line.
"It shows what I can do, more than what I have done," he says, a discreet smile of honest self-satisfaction crossing his lips.
And Mr. Armani can do a lot.
Not only does he produce new ideas every season, but he continues to expand his fashion empire with new products, most recently, a cosmetics line, the fragrance Mania, a home furnishings line and a new collection of leather accessories.
The Guggenheim exhibition runs through Jan. 17. It includes about 400 Armani creations and is the first time the museum has dedicated an exhibit to a single designer. The exhibition was put together by theater director Robert Wilson and Harold Koda, curator-in-charge at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Armani label was born in 1975, when Mr. Armani and Sergio Galeotti sold their Volkswagen and with the proceeds started a company, Giorgio Armani SpA. (Mr. Galeotti, who was Mr. Armani's business partner, died in 1985.)
From the start, Mr. Armani designed clothes for both men and women, often borrowing styles from one sex to enhance the other. This eventually produced an androgynous look that became the Armani trademark.
"He is a master of the masculine-feminine mix," says Patricia McColl, who has been following fashion as long as Mr. Armani has been creating it. She is the Paris editor of the monthly Fashion Newsletter.
The single item that made Mr. Armani an instant hit: the unlined jacket.
Since outfitting Richard Gere in the 1980 film "American Gigolo," Mr. Armani has been involved in more than 80 films, and the list of stars he has dressed on and off the screen reads like a Hollywood "Who's Who."
Robert De Niro and Sophia Loren were on hand for the opening of the new superstore, which took place during the week of preview showings for the spring-summer 2001 season.
The Armani company is worth more than $2 billion, according to its latest published report released at the end of 1999. The retail network stretches over 33 countries and includes 53 Giorgio Armani stores, six Le Collezioni stores, 129 Emporio Armani stores, 48 A/X Armani exchange stores, four Armani Jeans stores and two Armani Junior stores.
Armani would be a prize catch for Bernard Arnault of the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Chandon) luxury goods conglomerate or Gucci's Domenico del Sole. Both have expressed interest in the company. But so far Mr. Armani prefers the role of absolute monarch.
"It would be very hard for me to do things somebody else's way," he says.
This loyalty to his particular fashion vision is at the root of his charisma, says Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue. "He is true to himself in his designs, which are instantly recognizable."
The latest Armani collection owes its success to just this point. It includes softly tailored jackets and uncomplicated trousers, pretty chiffon skirts and delicately sequined evening wear. Mr. Armani's only flirtation with impracticality was the suspenders that popped up throughout the show, but they were in good fun.
"He has always made clothes that people want to wear," says Patrick McCarthy, chairman of Fairchild Publications, which publishes Women's Wear Daily, a leading fashion newspaper.
Mr. Armani, 66, grew up in the northern Italian town of Piacenza. He studied medicine, but after two years quit college to take a job in a Milan department store where he decorated windows. This led to work in various designing studios and ultimately the venture with Mr. Galeotti.
"We had no idea what we were doing," Mr. Armani says, "only that we wanted to do it."
The sole talent he will acknowledge is a sharp eye. "I always knew when something was wrong, like a fork out of place at the dinner table. Later, I learned how to make it right."

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