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Fashion followers fortunate enough to be in Spain between March and August this year will surely not want to pass up an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in the northern city of Bilbao. Its subject is the work of a talismanic designer whose enormous appeal took a clothing label to unprecedented heights in brand-name recognition.
The exhibition, called simply "Giorgio Armani," covers the designer's twenty-five-year development and contribution to fashion and culture. Clothes from different stages of Armani's career are displayed in a loose narrative arrangement, and many of the designs feature his trademark color, the mixture of grey and beige that came to be known as "Armani greige."
Also on display are the romantic traditions of European fashion and selections demonstrating influences and fabrics from regions as diverse as China, India, and Polynesia. There is even a section containing movie costumes and outfits worn at the Oscars and other ceremonial occasions, illustrating the glamour and cultural status of the Armani brand. The garments are complemented by a selection of photographs and sketches.
The exhibition's appearance in Bilbao follows on the heels of an earlier successful stint at the New York Guggenheim, where there was some minor criticism among the acclaim. Art purists castigated the Museum for promoting commercial concerns, while others, who feel Armani's best days are behind him, pointed out that a museum is where his designs belong.
There is a strong popular association between the words "Armani suit" and the attainment of, or at least the quest for, material success.
It is a fashion item whose designer possesses an extraordinary ability to create a harmonious blend of seemingly contradictory elements: traditional and modern, East and West, casual and elegant.
Giorgio Armani was born near Milan, Italy, in 1934. His earliest foray into the fashion world was helping introduce Italian consumers to foreign styles when he worked as a purchaser for a leading Milanese department store. With no formal training behind him, he brought out his first line in 1964 while working for Nino Cerutti, one of the top men's fashion houses. He later left to start his own firm, and his clothes began appearing under the Armani label in 1975.
The Armani line was at first noted for loose, smart-casual blazers that provided a refreshing alternative to both the stiff, formal suits and the sloppy, laid-back hippie style of the previous decade. Though they were aimed at men, Armani's fashions proved so popular among women that he soon began designing for them as well.
The famous suits caught the mood of the power dressers of the prosperous 1980s, and a string of movie appearances by his designs, beginning with the wardrobe of Richard Gere in American Gigolo, enhanced his reputation to the point where he is now considered one of the undisputed icons of twentieth-century style.