With a saucy dance and an array of gorgeously made, deconstructed suits in “American Gigolo,” Giorgio Armani became a superstar. Incidentally, so did Richard Gere, the man wearing the suits and doing the dance.
Twenty-five years later, that fashion moment still resonates with the legions of people who understand that a suit — at one time the stuffy, boxy uniform of the business world — can not only be stylish, but drop-dead sexy. “They were adventurous, a bit cheeky and certainly forward-looking,” says Gere now of those famous suits with the soft shoulders and long, louche lines.
In fact, “American Gigolo” made the Armani label, sewn into the right inside breast pocket, the ultimate symbol of success and status. Many a client, once he slipped into one, never even thought of trying any other.
One man who certainly didn’t look back after trying on his first Armani is Pat Riley, NBA coach of the L.A. Lakers and New York Knicks in the Eighties and Nineties, now president of the Miami Heat. “The classic Armani navy blue suit with a single button,” he says. “That was my uniform for 22 years when I was coaching.” To this day, sports and fashion fans alike can easily conjure an image of Riley stalking the sidelines, all lathered up over a referee’s call but looking like a million dashing bucks. Indeed, Riley, who appeared on GQ’s cover in 1988 and 1997, cut such a chic figure on the sidelines that he is widely credited with bringing glamour to the game. And he did it all in Armani.
It’s no surprise, then, that he doesn’t even know how many Armani suits he has. “I mean, I was in a suit 200 nights a year for more than 20 years…,” he calculates.
“To me, it’s a suit of elegance, style, substance, and yes, a manifestation of success,” he adds. “But I wore it because it felt good on me.” Riley can riff on the various luxe fabrics Armani uses as easily as he can rattle off his star players’ on-court stats.
“I’ve always said that, when it comes to men of greatness — or women — one doesn’t measure his life by the number of breaths that he takes, but by the number of times he takes your breath away,” Riley says. “And every year I go back to Armani and look through his fabrics, there’s always a half dozen times I go, ‘Wow, he’s done it again!’”As one of the most popular costumers for Hollywood films, the designer has dressed an extraordinary number of A-list actors. The concensus among them seems to be that donning one of his suits onscreen feels less like a costume and more like something they’d actually wear off-camera. And, of course, most do. “His suits feel and flow like a second skin,” says Andy Garcia, who along with Robert De Niro, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner, wore Armani three-pieces for 1987’s “The Untouchables.”
Samuel L. Jackson, however, clearly remembers that his love affair with those suits started well before the designer outfitted him for the 2000 remake of “Shaft.” After receiving his first sizable paycheck for a movie in the early Nineties, the first thing Jackson did, he says, was to drop all that dosh on a tan brushed cotton suit. “It was great; it held its lines so well,” he recalls. “It was an accomplishment for me to think that I had arrived at one of the places I wanted to get to.”
Likewise, he understands that for many young men and women, buying their first Armani suit is a measuring stick of success, indicating that “you’re going in the right direction.”
“Wearing an Armani suit is another way of saying that you understand who you are and where you’re headed,” he says. “People around you see that and will take you a little more seriously.”
While Jackson no longer has that tan suit — “I’ve gained a little weight since then,” says the 6-foot, 3-inch actor — he estimates that he has anywhere between 40 and 50 Armani suits currently in his closet. For him, the unstructured looks are perfect for his many rounds of press appearances. “They’re comfortable and easier to pack because they fall out perfectly from the suitcase.”
He also notes that the suits’ classic lines work minor miracles for those with less than Hollywood-toned physiques. “The shape of the shoulder and bodice makes you look like you’re in shape whether you are or not,” he adds.
However, Armani not only revolutionized the way the suit looked, but also the idea of how it could be worn. Seemingly overnight, the tailored classic went from Fortune 500 boardrooms to the red carpet — is there anything sexier than Julia Roberts in a streamlined midnight look, like the one she wore to the 2002 People’s Choice Awards? Armani transformed the shapeless woman’s suit of the Eighties into a thing of sophistication, power and total sex appeal. Most synonymous with this potent combination, of course, are Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer.When she won her first Oscar in 1988 for “The Accused,” Foster wore what she calls “a young girl’s idea of dress-up,” a bouffant-ish, beribboned blue gown, clearly not an Armani design. After that, she says, “I really just put myself in Mr. Armani’s hands, and said, ‘What do you think would look good on me?’”
Et voilà, fashion transformation. Four years later when Foster picked up her second Oscar for “Silence of the Lambs,” she showed up in a glammed-up Armani suit, replete with spangled pants for a little red-carpet flash. Since then, she admits, Foster has rarely worn anything else. “Well, there’s Nike,” she says, naming her other label of choice. “So if I’m not in Nike, I’m pretty much wearing Armani.”
Except for a few times Foster has ventured out in a dazzling dress (Armani, natch), the actress usually makes public appearances in a trim suit. “When you handle an Armani suit, you can never confuse it with someone else’s. Of course it looks beautiful, but it’s the sensation, how it feels when you’re in it and how it feels when you touch somebody who’s wearing it,” she says, noting that the fabrics are always beautiful and subtle.
“I think all men who saw ‘American Gigolo’ said, ‘Wow, I want to look like that,’ while all the women said, ‘I want to go out with a guy who looks like that!’”
“It wasn’t an outlandish fantasy,” Foster adds. “It was a fantasy that really was appropriate to everyone’s life.” And that’s why the image of Richard Gere in those looks made such an incredible and lasting impact, because looking that sexy — or more importantly, feeling that sexy — was as simple as putting on one of those suits. “If I was a man, that’s all I’d wear,” she jokes.
When Michelle Pfeiffer presented the designer with a special award at the Fashion Group International’s big soiree last fall, she said, “What is quintessentially Armani is how sexy he can make a woman look in a suit. Classy, cool, collected, technically perfect, yet still glamorous…and sexy.”The same goes for his men’s looks, which is what leads Riley to draw his own basketball analogy. “When you look at the truly gifted players of the game — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal — there is one common denominator, which Giorgio shares. It’s that you don’t want to be considered just the best of the best,” he says. “You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.”
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