LONDON — He might as well have been a royal on a foreign tour, with the accolades, back-to-back appointments, Champagne receptions and special appearances. Giorgio Armani, who recently poured $40 million into London retail property and parties, grabbed a big chunk of attention during a weeklong visit that culminated Thursday night with a fashion- and celebrity-fueled free-for-all at Earl's Court. The event, which reached rock concert-like chaos in both the number of celebrities attending and the streams of people who flooded the venue — capped by an hour delay — will air on Britain's Chanel Four on Wednesday. All told, there were around 1,300 people there.
The evening featured performances by Beyoncé Knowles, Razorlight, Bryan Ferry and Andrea Bocelli, and a venue packed with such Armani pals as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashley Judd, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent and Elle Macpherson, among many others. Also in attendance were Bono and Bobby Shriver, who cofounded (Product) RED, an initiative that sells specially designed goods from several major companies, including Armani's, with some of the proceeds going toward fighting disease in Africa.
"This is a very special event for a very special cause," said DiCaprio, kicking off the festivities. "And thank you, Mr. Armani, for making a commitment to a better world."
After that, the designer unveiled his graphic spring Emporio Armani collection, featuring plenty of jackets in a variety of styles: cropped, single- and triple-buttoned, louche and low-slung and even a bomber or two. It was all done with a sculpted body consciousness and in red, white, gray and black colorblocks, stripes and polkadots. Swingy dresses should appeal to a young crowd, but the shorts he sent out, however, read a tad tricky.
For the first time he showed his new (Product) RED collection, which included T-shirts, baseball hats, jeans, shorts and sunglasses. "It's just a flash view of RED, and it's not a major creative statement, but I wanted to give the little collection some gravitas by showing it along with the other ones," said Armani before the show. That's one reason he also sent out his fall 2006 Giorgio Armani and Privé collections."It's a huge night for RED," said Shriver. "Tonight — and always — it's not about raising awareness; it's about cash. If you don't spend cash, we can't buy medicine."
Shriver's partner, Bono, praised the evening's host. "The man is a master of his own destiny. He's the god of every detail."
Philanthropy aside, it was also the biggest party of the week. "It seemed like it would be an exciting event," said Sadie Frost, who brought her little sister. "Why did we come tonight?" mused Philip Treacy. "Why not?"
Armani's week, however, wasn't just about the party. He was also in town to mark the opening of London's first Armani Casa on Bond Street, and the reopening of the new look Collezioni and Emporio Armani stores. In between, he accepted an honorary doctorate from University of the Arts London and pledged $300,000 for two bursary programs, at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Milan's Istituto Marangoni. He popped up in the front row of designer Todd Lynn's show, and stood by while his Ukranian footballer friend, Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko, signed copies of his book, "Sheva," at the new Armani Casa on Bond Street. The Daily Mirror dubbed him "Giorgio Armoney," and The Independent asked him to guest design Thursday's paper, a special Africa-focused issue with a Nick Knight shot of Kate Moss painted black.
Armani says that even he was overwhelmed by all the buzz and attention. "I walk into a restaurant and all of a sudden there's silence," insisted the designer, who dined at the new Nobu Berkeley and at Knightsbridge stalwart San Lorenzo. "I honestly didn't think my name was that well-known here. I'm so flattered. London has been good to me on so many levels."
But not everyone was excited to see him. "He's big-footed London Fashion Week and taken attention away from the young designers who show here," said Colin McDowell, creative director of Fashion Fringe, an annual competition for young design talent. "Mr. Armani has every right to come to London, but why does it have to be during fashion week, which is in such a delicate state of development? Any non-fashion person reading the papers today would think the only news coming out of this week is Armani."And Armani himself has some opinions about London fashion, saying the town isn't what it used to be. "There's no doubt that London is a city of trends, but fashion-wise, there's no longer that Sixties and Seventies magical creative spirit. The days of Carnaby Street, Biba and the Beatles no longer exists."
Although he only attended Lynn's show, Armani said he loved the spirit of the city's young designers. "Their minds are free! They're not worried what others have to say. They think like students," he said, adding that they needed more financial support in order to grow. "There's no real concept of industry here and the designers need more support. Yes, there's Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood, who both have businesses, but so many of these young designers are making a handful of dresses at home. But creatively, it's fertile ground. The design needs to be transformed into business," he said.
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