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Riding High: Armani Takes Texas

Giorgio Armani conquered Big D.

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DALLAS — Giorgio Armani conquered Big D.

The Italian designer brought his charisma to Dallas during a whirlwind three-day visit that culminated Friday with a sold-out show of his fall 2007 ready-to-wear collection at Neiman Marcus’ downtown flagship. The event helped raise almost $1 million for Dallas children’s charities.

Armani, who first came to the city 25 years ago, said he has high regard for his clients here and the response to his designs was an indicator of the universality of the Armani look.

“I’ve seen the Dallas customer evolve and become more and more sophisticated over the last two decades,” Armani told WWD. “And through these evolutions they continue to be among my best and most devoted customers.”

A crowd of about 1,000 admirers rewarded him with a standing ovation when he took a bow after sending more than 50 women’s and men’s styles down a gleaming black-lacquer runway to the beat of tribal dance music.

The fashion show was staged for the annual Crystal Charity Ball Luncheon — guests included seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, a Texan — in a huge tent on the parking lot adjacent to the store. The show provided heat in more ways than one. Along with 95-degree temperatures and high humidity, there were sizzling beaded black and gray dresses inspired by the Twenties and Thirties, a favorite Armani theme. There were plunging necklines and Swarovski-crystal paisley embellishment on busts, cuffs and collars, as well as bubble-hem dresses that stopped just above the knee, slim skirts and full-cut trouser-style pants.

Amid the parties and dinners for Armani — including a cocktail reception hosted by developer Ross Perot Jr. in his penthouse at the W Hotel at the Victory Park retail, office, hotel and entertainment center, and a private dinner at Stephan Pyles restaurant in the Arts District hosted by Gigi Howard, public relations director of the Natura Bisse skin care company, and author Kim Schlegel Whitman — the 73-year-old designer spent most of his time working. In fact, he reiterated that he has no plans to retire, unlike his contemporary, Valentino Garavani.

True to his métier, Armani spent most of his time cloistered in a conference room atop Neiman’s flagship that had been converted into a makeshift fashion atelier, complete with a short black-paper runway for Armani to instruct his models on how to exude just the right catwalk demeanor.

This story first appeared in the September 10, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

He stayed up late Thursday night to fit models and make last-minute adjustments in preparation for Friday’s fashion show, which also included the naming of the 10 best-dressed women in Dallas.

“Mr. Armani has been busy since he arrived in Dallas making sure that every detail of his collection and show were perfect,” said Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Stores.

In fact, Shelli Sills, vice president and general manager of the Neiman’s flagship, said the retailer “spent 10 days building this setting for Mr. Armani and his amazing designs, and this show and his visit to Neiman Marcus is a wonderful way to help us celebrate our 100th birthday.”

Burt Tansky, president and ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group, described Armani as “a living icon, and we are very pleased that he has come to Dallas as our guest of honor for the 2007 Crystal Charity Luncheon, taking place in our centennial year. He exemplifies the great style, elegance and innovation that also defines Neiman Marcus as we embark on our second century and look to the future.”

Armani arrived at Neiman Marcus on Wednesday and got a Texas-size welcome from more than 1,000 Neiman’s associates and fans as he strode into the store. On Thursday afternoon, he received a similar greeting when several hundred fans showed up at the Neiman Marcus store in NorthPark Center for a chance to meet the designer and get his autograph on a copy of the book “Armani Backstage” (Frederico Motta, $35 ), a coffee-table tome on his career.

Armani and his staff departed the Lone Star State after Friday’s show and flew directly to Milan, where he is in the midst of preparations for his spring 2008 collection, to be presented during Milan Fashion Week later this month.

Tickets to the Neiman’s fashion show sold out within hours after the announcement that Armani would be the guest designer, underscoring his popularity with Dallas luxury shoppers.

The show also included the presentation of the 10 best-dressed women in Dallas, all of whom wore Armani clothes when they were escorted down the runway before the show.

Each year The Crystal Charity Ball Committee chooses 10 women within the organization who personify great personal style. This year’s list included Charlotte Anderson, Pam Busbee, Alison Farrow, Ola Fojtasek, Killi Ford, Heather Furniss, Carmen Godwin, Libby Hunt, Di Johnston and Betsy Sowell. Dee Wyly was chosen as The Crystal Charity Best-Dressed Hall of Fame honoree.

Since 1952, the main mission of The Crystal Charity Ball organization has been to aid, support and make contributions to children’s charities in Dallas County. A nonprofit organization that’s independent of any national affiliation, The Crystal Charity Ball Committee has raised in excess of $72 million for more than 90 beneficiaries. This year, the 100 active members of the group committed to raise more than $4.6 million.

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