Giorgio Armani has become a household name without mainstreaming the merchandise.

He dresses Hollywood stars and opens his own stores, and while others have gone the Target and H&M route, Armani keeps his retail distribution tight. For the relatively small number of retailers that sell his collections, Armani holds a special place. They acknowledge that he’s not perfect — he’s extremely demanding, and on occasion a little too slick or “Miami Vice” in the presentation. But overall, his impact has been huge. He’s described as the epitome of luxury, master of tailoring, elegance and ease, a pioneer in building brand image and obsessive about protecting that image. And that’s why Armani always gets the windows and the premier square footage wherever he’s sold.

Here, retailers discuss the designer, what he stands for, and his enormous influence over the decades.

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s: “We go way back. I am lucky enough to have been on the fashion circuit in the early Seventies when Mr. Armani was making jackets and beautiful tweeds. At the time, I worked at Bonwit Teller and we carried some of the jackets. Our customers responded really well to them from early on. They weren’t stiff and moved with the body.

In many ways, he created the look of Milanese sportswear as it related to the American consumer. Milanese sportswear became more understandable in America than clothes from other fashion capitals. It’s all about the quality, the ease, the tailoring and the fact that it didn’t overpower the woman. It enhanced her femininity. For the executive woman, Armani provided a look for the boardroom that was very strong but not intimidating.

His men’s collection in Milan [this month] continued his look but there’s always a fresh rethinking of his silhouettes and color palette. He used to be called the king of Milan. Then Tom Ford came along. But where is Tom now? Armani is still king.

Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman: Mr. Armani is an icon. He has created an image and a world, the world in which he lives, which has remained focused and consistent. Only a few great designers have accomplished this. It’s completely focused and edited and he has really been the face of modern fashion.He has this almost laser-like eye and studies every detail, from the room to the mannequins and even what you are wearing when you are around him. He is unmistakably observant. It’s this eye and his vision that has taken him to where he is today.

Gene Pressman, former Barneys New York vice chairman: Barneys played the leading role in developing Giorgio Armani in this country. Fred Pressman [Gene’s father] is the one that really discovered Giorgio Armani. Jackie Rodgers had clothes by Armani [under a different label] but we cut a deal with him in 1974 and had an exclusivity contract signed in 1975. We asked Gabriella Forte, who worked at the Italian Trade Commission at the time, to be the interpreter of the contract. That’s how they met.

We ended up eventually selling the contract to GFT. We spent a lot of money developing him, took a lot of losses in the beginning since the clothing was very new to America. We promoted him, built boutiques, took a big chance and the rest is history. Certainly, he was a big cog in the wheel.

Jaqui Lividini, former Saks Fifth Avenue senior vice president: Armani was at the forefront of understanding the power of a brand and going to great lengths to protect it. Every single thing a retailer did with Armani, whether it was an advertisement, or an event, or the launch of a product, was meticulously detailed to present the brand in the best possible light and preserve its image. Now it’s common practice by many designers.

Karen Katz, president and chief executive of Neiman Marcus Stores: “Giorgio Armani has been one of our most important vendors and also a great friend to Neiman Marcus for 30 years. His designs are both timeless and elegant and transcend generations of our customers.”

Ann Stordahl, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s apparel, Neiman Marcus: “We have shops in all our stores for Giorgio Armani and Armani Collezioni. They’re positioned very prominently within our fine apparel floors.”

Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer, Bloomingdale’s: “He is certainly one of the true legends and geniuses of our time. I think the style, fashion, the quality…everything about Armani is at that top level. He has had an enormous impact on the retail scene and how people view fashion. He made us look at businesses differently by creating something that is timeless, while at the same time always reinventing himself.”Ruth Ann Lockhart, divisional director designer of women’s wear, Holt Renfrew: We’ve had a lengthy relationship and a long-standing partnership with Giorgio Armani. We are delighted to have the Armani Black Label business exclusively in Canada and we’re the headquarters for Collezioni. The Armani business is tremendously important to Holt Renfrew, with three Armani women’s boutiques — the Bloor Street flagship, Montreal’s Sherbrooke and in Vancouver. Overall, we’re experiencing a year-to-date, double-digit increase for Armani in women’s wear. Holt Renfrew has a synergistic relationship with the company, in that Armani’s core customer is our core customer. New Armani customers are also responding very well to the novelty of the recent collections, where the essence is Giorgio Armani but there is incredible newness in fabrics, textures and colors.

Howard Socol, chairman, ceo and president, Barneys New York: To me, Mr. Armani is a designer, entrepreneur, businessman, icon extraordinaire. Barneys was the first store to carry Armani’s collection in the U.S., and it has been a real honor for us to be his longest retail client. He has added style and excitement [to retail], and brought innovation to the luxury market.

 — David Moin and Marc Karimzadeh

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