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Now in his fifth decade working in fashion, Giorgio Armani is more than just a designer – he’s an institution, an icon and a multinational, billion-dollar brand.

Armani the man was born in 1934 in Piacenza, northern Italy. He spent his formative years not in fashion but studying medicine at university and completing his national service. After working as a buyer for Milanese department store La Rinascente, he scored his first break in 1964, when he was hired by Nino Cerruti to design a menswear line, Hitman. Several years as a successful freelance designer followed, but it was in 1975 that the Giorgio Armani label was set up, with the help of his then business partner Sergio Galeotti.

Armani’s signature ‘unstructured’ jackets for both men and women (a womenswear line was established in 1976), knocked the stuffing out of traditional tailoring and from the late ’70s, his clothes became a uniform for the upwardly mobile. Men loved his relaxed suits and muted colour palette of neutral beiges and greys. His designs for women, meanwhile, were admired for an androgynous and modern elegance. Richard Gere’s suits in American Gigolo’ (1980) were a landmark for the designer, as was the cover of Time magazine in 1983.

The brand now encompasses six major fashion lines and has diversified into bedlinen, chocolates and even hotels. Armani has won countless awards, including an Honorary Doctorate from the RCA in 1991; from 2000 his designs have been exhibited in a major retrospective show that has travelled worldwide. Armani has also picked up a dedicated Hollywood following, and January 2005 saw the launch in Paris of ‘Giorgio Armani Prive’, an haute couture-like collection.

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