Ultimately, readers will be offended not because Armani is demanding or narcissistic, but simply because he’s boring.
Being ArmaniPublisher: Baldini Castoldi Dalai
Subtitle: A Biography
Author: Renata Molho
US publication date: 2008-04
When Janice Dickinson firsts meets Giorgio Armani, the introduction does not go well. "Giorgio was sitting on an elevated throne -- an actual throne, I kid you not!" she writes in No Lifeguard on Duty. "I found myself mesmerized by the largest pinky ring I’ve ever seen." Perhaps it's this distracting ring that causes Janice to accidentally address her potential employer as "Gianni," the first name of Versace, Armani’s biggest rival in the fashion world. Immediately, Janice is dismissed with a single hand wave but in typical Janice fashion, she demands the last word as she's escorted out: "I took my arm back and turned back to Armani. That ring, that throne, that attitude. 'Jesus, dude -- who the fuck do you think you are? The goddamn pope?'"
Renata Molho's Being Armani, the authorized biography of the man behind Italy’s most successful fashion brand, tries to minimize any negative impressions of Giorgio’s domineering personality by celebrating his work ethic, and it consequently often reads more like a defense than a life story. Sadly, this defense does include any anecdotes as amusing as Dickinson’s, although the characterization of Armani is often the same. “Armani walks a fine line between democracy and tyranny,” Molho warns, yet she presents little evidence of his democratic moments. “He demands absolute loyalty, turning his back on anyone who leaves his orbit.” This is unsurprising behavior from a man the press once commonly called “King Giorgio,” and who admits that the best compliment he’ll give an employee is “I really taught you well.”
Armani’s childhood and career trajectory are dutifully recounted in the book’s first two chapters. He entered the world of fashion via the world of retail, as a consultant and window dresser for a large Italian department store, and this background, according to Molho, was crucial in shaping his instinct for creating clothing that the public wants, rather than fanciful designs that are conceived without the thought of consumers’ needs. It was not until 1975, at the age of 39, that Armani created the eponymous empire he’s known for today after an eight year stint designing menswear for another label.
This background in menswear heavily influenced his idea of female fashion, which proved a perfect response to the increased presence of women in the workplace. Armani himself, as opposed to his biographer, is often the best source for explanations of the concepts behind his womenswear. His quotes routinely surpass Molho’s writing in both enthusiasm and clarity. In the following passage, Armani reveals a design perspective that is just as refreshing and intelligent today as it was in the mid ‘70s:
“It seemed to me that [women] had been rendered ridiculous, sort of made into baby-dolls, glittering at all costs, covered with gewgaw accessories, loaded with […] bedroom suggestiveness. Which could be fine. But not for working women, whose lives were no different from the lives of men, and who needed to dress for the same purposes: with a basic need for everyday elegance, simplicity.”
When actually allowed to focus on fashion rather than Armani’s property purchases or store openings, Being Armani blooms with sudden energy and insight. These occasions, however, are far too rare. In 64 pages of photographs, only 15 include images of Armani’s designs, while the rest are full of snapshots from his villa or red carpet encounters with stars. Naturally, in a biography, portraits may constitute the bulk of the images, but the personal pictures are static and repetitive, devoid of the power found in shots of his designs. The ad campaigns for his menswear in particular are infused with a dramatic eroticism and subtle humor that the book’s text barely acknowledges. In one picture, a young man’s tie -- the most famously phallic piece of clothing -- is tucked into the waist of his pants, directly over his fly.
Ultimately, readers will be offended not because Armani is demanding or narcissistic, but simply because he’s not very interesting. Compared to Marc Jacobs’ feuds with critics and Tom Ford’s creation of the world’s most eye-roll-inducing ad campaigns, even Armani’s ego is entirely unremarkable. His focus on work to the exclusion of all other pursuits has created a life distinguished only by the astounding degree of luxury and wealth it affords him, rather than the eccentric friends or dramatic adventures that energize most celebrity biographies. Armani himself acknowledges that fact: “Some people think I am not very outgoing, antisocial, a bear, an ingrate, because in order to work I give up a chance to spend time with other people [...] The work I do is tyrannical, it demands everything you have, it takes everything.”
Being Armani is ultimately its own worst critic, as it proves that Armani is concerned with “work before all else, work as life.” A personal account of the man is boring, and more egregiously, it misses the point. One should write about Armani’s designs or not write about him at all.