Four decades in any business is an impressive feat, much less fashion, whose flights of fancy can mean a designer is one day "in" and another day "out (to paraphrase Heidi Klum). So when Giorgio Armani, adesigner whose name is sacred to the red carpet's best dressed, including Cate Blanchett (pictured, above in Armani), decided to celebrate his eponymous label's big 4-0, you better believe it was with a bang. (Blanchett, for one, understands the the fickle nature of the industry. "Fashion can seem quite transitory," says Blanchett, who bought an Armani suit right out of drama school and has been wearing the label ever since. "When you develop genuine relationships with people, it's important to honor them.")
Armani kicked off things with a runway retrospective and a Milan gallery dedicated to his craft. While touring his new exhibition space, the 81-year-old silver fox reflected on four decades of shaping the way women—famous or not—dress.
How did you know so long ago that the red carpet would become so big?
"When I was growing up, we had just finished with war. It was a hard time for us, so seeing what was happening in Hollywood, I knew I wanted to be a part of that. To catch a little of that stardust is such a great thing."
You've dressed so many stars that people used to call the Academy Awards the Armani Awards. Now that there's more competition, how do you stay on top?
"We used to invent our job day by day, but now a huge industry has grown around celebrities and how they dress. However, the way I work is still the same. I try to build a deep dialogue with the celebrities I dress. I always thought it important to maintain a direct, personal relationship, and I think people appreciate some human contact."
What makes a great red-carpet dress?
"I think that a look is perfect when you wear clothes that reflect your personality and make you feel comfortable. On the other hand, I think excess, on the red carpet and off, is never elegant."
Seeing your work in the gallery, did you ever think all this was possible?
"This job makes me dream little. I have to keep my feet on the ground. It's about reality. Recently, a journalist told me, 'Mr. Armani, you are very successful, but there are also people who criticize you and say you're a bit boring.' This exhibition shows everybody that I have been creative as well in my career."
How has fashion changed in that time?
"The body has changed for the better, but I'm not sure that fashion has gotten better for women. It has been reduced to the essentials—a legging, a leather jacket, a pair of sneakers. Before, women dressed up for the evening, and for the day. Now it's a bit simple. That is something that needs to change. Otherwise, all of this work wouldn't make sense."