The last leg of a travelling show which originally kicked off at the Guggenheum Museum in New York in 2000, and which will now terminate in Milan, it's an exhaustive exhibition comprised of hundreds of garments ranging from the designer's first collections through to the most recent (having clearly been updated along the way).
Of particular note, a Hollywood room that features a number of dresses and suits worn either in films as costumes or on the red carpet by a myriad of stars, from Richard Gere to Jodie Foster, Ornella Muti, Katie Holmes, Leonardo di Caprio and Tina Turner. As you walk from room to room, wording on a series of large wall plaques provides a running ode to the minimalist maestro.
A few cases in point:
"It is Giorgio Armani's successful mediation of the complex and sometimes contradictory impulses of contemporary fashion that has come to define the image of dress in our time.... The minimalist cut, inseparable from the Armani name, is a reflection of the rising democratisation of contemporary society".
"Armani has always believed that fashion should be simple, pure and clean.... Minimalism in fashion is sometimes criticised as being dull, but it is never so with Armani".
"The subtle richness of the Armani style is achieved by the designer's virtuoso poising of contradictory elements into a delicate and serene balance".
"While the Armani palette encompasses the entire colour spectrum it is the designer's expressive range of neutrals that is most closely associated with his oeuvre.... The ambiguous results have inspired fashion writers to poetic evocations of moss, lichen and even mist to describe the subtle richness of his colours".
Beginning in 2004 however, some four years after this exhibition opened, Armani's collections have tended to inspire some fashion writers to a few other evocations - in fact, some quite trenchant criticisms.
Armani has since said that he doesn't care what fashion writers say. It's not that there aren't some beautiful clothes in his collections. The eveningwear in particular is striking. It's just that Armani's shows tend to be a little like his museum retrospective: Armani's greatest hits, as opposed to Armani pushing the edges of fashion's current creative envelope, which is what the fashion press would really like to see. But what do we know anyway?
The fussy styling frequently also seems anathema to the designer's minimalist mantra of "simple, pure and clean".
In the autumn/winter 0708 show at least, he stripped the styling back to one sequin-covered skullcap for every model.
Beyond the interminable bubble and tulip skirts there was some spectacular eveningwear, notably one silver, bugle-beaded and fringed flapper skirt and the finale dress, a scintillating, Swarovski crystal-encrusted sheath that would no doubt look fabulous on Cate Blanchett should Blanchett, as Armani has claimed she will, committ to wear Armani at the upcoming Academy Awards.
Just as I am pondering the 600th outfit, and the umpteenth ode, I stumble upon Armani muse, Tina Turner. Besieged by photographers at the 3pm show, it was virtually impossible to approach her then. Wandering through the moodily-lit exhibition, she was happy to stop for a quick chat:
Your thoughts on the exhibition?
Tina Turner: Well I have quite a few things that are here (laughs), I think in my closet. I could make something look like this. Yeah, I have many of his clothes. I collect them. Some of them are so beautiful, that I don't wear them that often but it's just an inspiration to look at the beading and the work that went into it. So that was nice to see. The show this evening was...it's always just inspired me to really want to make sure that I stay in shape and that I look good. It's that kind of a motivation for me when I watch his shows. It really is.
That's an interesting comment in the context of the current skinny model debate.
Well yes I think it is possible....but also I know, I've seen a few of the ones now where girls with heavy rumps are walkin' the rampway.
The heavy what?
The heavy backsides. And that doesn't look so good. So I think it's difficult to really get the right size to please everybody. But it's not about the model anyhow, it's about the clothes.
I noticed in the Hollywood room, nestled amongst the long flowing Oscar columns and red carpet ballgowns, is one beaded microdress - with your name on it.
Have you only ever worn short dresses? It's been something of a signature hasn't it?
Well yes I work, you know, my high energy working and I used to wear the (long) gowns and it was very glamorous but it just wasn't my style and I was falling about and tearing them and ripping them. And I just started to wear the short dresses and I stayed with it. It was comfortable, it worked for me and that was why.
Do you still wear them?
Yeah, I'm looking to try to change but I haven't actually replaced it because usually when I do short shows, only 45minutes to an hour long, I wear boots, short dresses, because it's kind of expected. If I come out in a gown, everybody goes like, 'What happened here?'
What is the secret to your longevity?
I think I did something right along the way obviously because it's a very young crowd that is still inspired by me and my work and what I've done. When I listen to my music it still really sounds really quite current, so it means when I was there doing the work I did it the best I could and I think I made the right choices. And I think that is why I'm lasting as well as I am in this business.
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