In 1975, Giorgio Armani introduced his first menswear pieces: supple bomber jackets made from leather treated like cloth. Encouraged by the response, Armani set about knocking the stuffing out of the stuffed suit look that had long dominated menswear. First to go were the padding and lining. Then, with a sculptor’s touch, he gave the shoulders a gentle slope, narrowed and elongated the lapels, and moved the center button down just so. Short men stood tall—and tall men, even taller. Taking inspiration from Neapolitan tailors, who made their suits from lightweight fabrics, Armani used less conventional, softer materials, including linen. Worn loose, an unconstructed Armani jacket gave the wearer a devil-may-care, slightly rumpled appearance.
Armani found the perfect advertisement for his look of louche luxury in American actor Richard Gere. In the 1980 film American Gigolo, Gere played a suave, high-class rent-boy who used his Armani suits as tools of seduction. Overnight, an Armani jacket became the ultimate status symbol for moneyed young men seeking an easy way to telegraph their success. Sales soared.
His understated look, in a palette of soft blue, brown, black, gray, and greige, also appealed to women. Armani introduced his first women’s suit jackets in 1975, in the same relaxed fit as his men’s styles and made with menswear fabrics. In the 1980s, women around the world adopted this new broad-shouldered, tapered power silhouette as a form of boardroom armor.
Having suited up Wall Street in his signature pinstripes and neutrals, Armani set up shop on Rodeo Drive in 1988. He courted Tinseltown in earnest, offering its luminaries a subtle way to turn up the wattage on Oscar night without dimming any of their own star power. Armani was the original red carpet dresser, styling celebrities for their big night even before the word stylist came into popular usage.
In 2005, at age 70, he established himself at the highest level of fashion: haute couture. The designer’s Armani Privécreations are frequently seen on the red carpet, worn by A-listers including Beyoncé, Cate Blanchett, and Alicia Keys.