By  on January 31, 2006

MILAN — The Olympic flame made its way through this city late Sunday and Giorgio Armani donned a tracksuit to help make it happen.Hundreds of people cheered as Armani trotted down Via Montenapoleone holding the Olympic torch, which he then used to light the torch of AC Milan soccer star Andriy Shevchenko. The flame continued on to Piazza Duomo in the city's center, one of its last stops before reaching Turin. Many spectators waited as long as two hours amid the slushy remnants of a record-breaking blizzard two days earlier. Antiglobalization protestors helped stall the flame's journey on the outskirts of the city.Initially, it looked like the Ukrainian-born Shevchenko was shaping up to be the main celebrity draw for the evening, eliciting cheers and fervent flag-waving as a Samsung-sponsored bus dropped him at his start position, at the intersection of Via Montenapoleone and Via Manzoni. "We're here for Shevchenko, let's be honest," admitted 20-year-old university student Gaia Bottura.But when Armani arrived to ignite the athlete's torch, a mélange of spectators, including teenage boys sporting knit Armani caps, yelled out "Giorgio!" Antonella Bianco, who won a spot on the torch circuit through a Coca-Cola sweepstakes, transferred the flame to the designer near the intersection of Via Verri and Via Montenapoleone, near the famed Cova cafe.Armani briskly walked the tony shopping strip, sprinting the last few meters to Shevchenko. "I wanted to run the entire way, but there were all of these photographers around and I wanted to look good in the pictures," the designer quipped. Armani greeted Shevchenko with the customary cheek kisses and the two men posed for a photo op. A scrum of fans bearing camera-equipped cell phones and requesting autographs then engulfed the designer as he made his way toward the Nobu in his Via Manzoni megastore just a few feet away. "I touched him with my hand," one young male fan cried as he emerged from the cluster. Another woman in the fray, Francesca Cappelli, seemed just as starstruck. "I'm here for Armani because I like his style," she said.At Nobu, Armani changed with superhero speed into his signature form-hugging black T-shirt and pants. "Every time I get involved in something that goes beyond my world of work, I question whether I'm doing a good thing or a bad thing or if I'm being an exhibitionist. I think a lot about it. I want to be known for my work as a designer. But there are certain offers that you just have to accept," said Armani, who added that he's still moved by the overt affection of his fans. "It's great to be someone who has given people something with my work, to feel that and to continue feeling it," he said.Clearly, the designer is continuing to feel the Olympic spirit. Word has it he'll appear on the Today Show's Milan broadcast Feb. 8 as part of the NBC program's tour through Italy leading up to the Turin games. Armani also plans to attend the Olympic opening ceremony Feb. 10, where he will dress 30 Italian athletes and a yet-to-be-named Italian celebrity.

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