GIORGIO ARMANI, NOW 86 and still leading the Milan-based fashion house he founded in 1975, is a master of expansion and evolution. Since gaining international attention with Richard Gere’s wardrobe in Paul Schrader’s noirish 1980 film “American Gigolo,” the designer liberated a generation of men from boxy black-and-navy Brooks Brothers conformity with his draped linen jackets and suits in shades of dove and cappuccino. Informed by the traditions of Italian tailoring, Japanese aesthetics and Art Deco, his empire now encompasses everything from furnishings to fragrance, but he has never wavered in his dedication to monochromatic modernity.
A history of modern beauty in four chapters.
Chapter 1: On the rise of strong “oriental” fragrances that reflected the political and cultural landscapes of their time, the 1980s.
Chapter 2: On ’90s-era advances in weaves, wigs and other Black hairstyles that ushered in a new age of self-expression.
Chapter 3: On botanical oils, a simple fact of life in much of the world that, here in the West, began to take on an almost religious aura in the 2000s.
Chapter 4: On men wearing makeup, a practice with a long history, but one that has really taken off in the last decade.
Armani himself sticks to a fresh, boyish uniform that has remained consistent through the decades: navy sweaters in cashmere or cotton, a fine-gauge white T-shirt, well-cut trousers and spotless white sneakers. But perhaps his most recognizable signature is a pair of oval-shaped wire-rimmed silver glasses that he has worn, in sunglass and reading form, since the late 1980s, when he introduced them as part of the house’s first-ever eyewear collection. “Once I find something that fits as I want, I rarely change it. I just update it,” he says. And though he has tweaked the glasses’ shape subtly over time, their essence has remained intact for 30-plus years, resisting the rise of the now-ubiquitous thick-framed tortoise shell, the oversize aviator and many other passing trends. His newest iteration, called the Icon, features titanium frames in gold, gunmetal or black with a choice of blue, brown or clear lenses. Perennially influenced by Hollywood’s golden age, Armani recalls his “fantasy and memory of the peculiar atmospheres and elegance of those movies: the softness, the effortlessness and yet the absolute properness of the way the characters dressed,” he says. “These are glasses that Cary Grant would have worn wonderfully — or Greta Garbo.”