BEVERLY HILLS — The man responsible for raising the sartorial stakes on Hollywood’s red carpets is getting a trophy of his own.

Giorgio Armani is the first inductee of the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award, a tribute the tony retail thoroughfare and the city of Beverly Hills has created to honor distinguished designers and style legends for their contributions in the ever-merging worlds of fashion and entertainment.

For those reasons, notes Rodeo Drive Association president Peri Ellen Berne, Armani was a natural choice to kick off the drive’s newest attraction.

Armani told WWD that he was "honored" to be receiving the award and happy to attend the Oscars, walking the red carpet with Mira Sorvino and supporting Martin Scorsese, nominated in the Best Director category for "Gangs of New York."

"That Mr. Armani will be here in person to receive the award is very exciting for what it means to Rodeo Drive, for what it means to Beverly Hills as a true center of style," said Berne.

Armani’s Hollywood credits include: on celluloid, Richard Gere in 1980’s "American Gigolo," a revolutionary moment in men’s wear; and costumes for such films as "The Untouchables," "Batman" and "Shaft." On the red carpet, the Oscar arrivals of Jodie Foster in 1989 and Michelle Pfeiffer in 1990 changed the way celebrities dressed for awards.

"One of the greatest pleasures in my work over the years has been the friendships I have made through the film projects in which I have been involved," said Armani. "I have great admiration for Jodie Foster, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Julia Roberts, Ashley Judd, Richard Gere, Russell Crowe, George Clooney, Samuel Jackson and Olivier Martinez, to name a few. All of them have exceptional talent and natural charisma and style that is captivating," said Armani, adding that he also had the "greatest respect" for Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett, with whom he has never worked.

The designer will be accompanied by a small army of representatives from his offices in Milan, New York and Los Angeles for the March 19 ceremony, timed just four days before the 75th Academy Awards and expected to draw some 600 VIP guests — including, organizers hope, the very A-list stars whom Armani turned into Oscar fashion plates — to the drive, which will be closed to traffic and the public for the sunset celebration.While in Hollywood, Armani will be doing personal fittings with Pfeiffer, Sorvino, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, the host of this year’s Oscars, Samuel Jackson and others.

Among the guests at the Walk of Style ceremony will be artist Robert Graham, who sculpted the symbol of the tribute — a nude female torso — which he created as a public work for the city. Standing at 14 feet, the solid bronzed aluminum Torso, as she’s called, will be unveiled during the ceremony as the centerpiece of the 200 Block street medium. Details of the contemporary work, which Graham created in his Venice, Calif., studio, are mum until that time. But the artist is pleased at the expanded use of his work into the cast bronze maquettes that the honorees will receive.

"I like [Armani’s] work," he said by telephone Thursday. "My wife [Anjelica Huston] introduced us and through her I’ve gone to a lot of his events."

The maquette, said Fred Hayman, "is our Oscar of fashion."

"Giorgio Armani was the first designer to recognize stardom and its immense influence on fashion," said Hayman, the venerable retailer known as Mr. Rodeo, who also had a hand in reviving the dress codes at the Oscars during the Eighties and Nineties, and is the brains behind the Walk, which he admits didn’t go over the first time he proposed it "many years ago."

This time, however, the Rodeo Drive Committee and the city were more enthusiastic. So much so, in fact, the process was put on the fast track and realized within some 18 months. "All these designers — [Bob] Mackie, [Richard] Tyler, Armani — have contributed so much to the fashion of Hollywood," continued Hayman. "It shows California has arrived as an important fashion happening."

Certainly, European designers have been racking up the frequent flier miles here in recent years. Karl Lagerfeld spent quite a few days here last summer shooting celebs for two Interview magazine issues, while John Galliano toured Melrose Avenue vintage shops and Hollywood costume warehouses in search of inspiration.

But it’s particularly at this time of the calendar when the city really plays host to heavyweights. Donatella Versace (and her entourage of seamstresses and fitters), Tom Ford, Hedi Slimane, Margherita Missoni, Elie Saab and Alberta Ferretti swooped into town last March, popping up at the various Oscar-related galas and private dinners and, in many cases, attending to fittings of a nominee or two.While their travel agents have Armani to thank for the March madness, interestingly it’s been 12 years since he has visited Los Angeles during the Oscars. (His last stop in town was in late 1999 when he co-hosted a benefit for friend Eric Clapton.) As part of this trip, sources confirm that he will attend to the fittings of a few Oscar-bound friends.

Following the street party, presented by Mercedes-Benz USA and W magazine (owned by WWD’s parent company Fairchild Publications), Armani will hold court at a private dinner at Mr. Chow, hosted by Scorcese and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.

To ensure Hayman’s message gets through to the 12 million visitors who stroll Rodeo Drive annually, the sidewalk will be marked with a bronze plaque, 2 feet by 2 feet, and engraved with a quote from the honoree, his signature and the induction date. Sources speculate the length along Rodeo Drive, between Wilshire and Little Santa Monica Boulevards, could eventually be studded with more than 30 plaques.

This is, after all, an industry town that loves to pay homage in concrete. There’s Graumann’s legendary sole and hand prints. The stars along Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. Even a sidewalk for rock star imprints in front of theSunset Boulevard musician temple Guitar Center. And now fashion’s superstars will have a pedestrian walkway of their very own.

The Walk of Style is expected to induct members up to twice a year. The blue ribbon committee, comprising members of Hollywood, the media and Rodeo Drive whose names were not available at press time, have already voted on the second honoree, who will be announced and feted close to the Emmys in September.

The Walk comes as the city nears the completion of an $18 million renewal program of the area known as the Golden Triangle, involving street, landscape and parking upgrades. (Groundbreaking for the new wider mediums, including the one which will be the base for Torso, begins Sunday.)

At the same time, retailers have aggressively mounted renovations of their own, enlisting big name architects and appointing VIP rooms in many cases. After months of construction, the Emporio Armani door will return to its home at 9533 Brighton Way in early May. In the meantime, it took up residence in The Rodeo Collection courtyard at 443 Rodeo Drive. The 13,000-square-foot Giorgio Armani store on Rodeo Drive opened in August 1988.Two years ago, Armani produced Scorsese’s documentary on Italian cinema, "Il Mio Viaggio in Italia."

"We should never forget the real and important purpose of these awards — to salute the achievements of those who bring cinema to life," said Armani. The designer said he felt that "fashion for some has in recent times become more important than the work of those who are being celebrated at the important awards shows like the Golden Globes and the Oscars" and that he was "troubled…in some ways it has become a circus."

As for a definition of true Hollywood style, Armani turns to the past. "For me the greatest years in Hollywood were those years when we all were in awe of the screen goddesses, who were the epitome of elegance and beauty.

"Today, unfortunately, sometimes in an effort to gain the media’s attention, I feel the standard to which these icons aspired in the past has been lowered significantly. I would always favor sophisticated, sensual elegance at the Oscars over the alternative."

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