By  on February 15, 2007

When Giorgio Armani won the coveted rights to dress the TomKat nuptials last year, he delegated much of the responsibility to his 36-year-old niece, Roberta Armani. She even flew to Los Angeles to oversee the final fitting for Katie Holmes' crystal embroidered silk dress and Tom Cruise's handmade tuxedo.

"I was proud and lucky to be involved in dressing their wedding," Roberta said. "I was naturally involved in helping them as much as I could with the organization of the event," which was held in a castle outside Rome.

Roberta, who has logged more than a decade working for her uncle has seen her role evolve from that of model to celebrity liaison and even muse. She, like many other next-generation heirs such as Allegra Versace Beck, Margherita Missoni, Matteo Marzotto, James Ferragamo, Gianguido Tarabini and Alessandro Benetton, are starting to assert themselves in their respective companies and prove that they're more than mere products of nepotism. While fashion's old guard is hardly rushing into retirement — Italians often work into their 70s and beyond — it's at least starting to make space for the younger set.

Although there are plenty of question marks surrounding the future of the Giorgio Armani group, there's little doubt that Roberta and her sister, Silvana Armani, 52, are playing increasingly important roles at their uncle's company.

Roberta has worked for the company for 14 years, first as a model and later in the public relations office. Last month, she confidently walked the runway for the Giorgio Armani men's show, accompanying Spanish bullfighter Cayetano Rivera. Over the years, she has grown into an ambassador for her uncle's brand.

"Lately, my role has been expanding and I have become sort of a muse, a face of the company, engaging in special projects and representing my uncle all over the world when he physically can't be there, as he is so busy all the time," Roberta said. "I only hope to be able to live up to what my name represents."

Meanwhile, Silvana is head women's wear designer for Emporio Armani and oversees the Armani Junior collection. She also sits on Giorgio Armani SpA's board and executive committee.

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