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Cracking Open the Armani Archive

Cracking Open the Armani Archive

In an old granary on the southern edge of central Milan sits a marvel of fashion history, Armani/Silos—a museum that contains the life’s work of Giorgio Armani. Four decades’ worth of culture-shifting fashion is housed there, on display for the public to take in. You can wander the halls and study the fits, but what you can’t do is touch anything or try them on. Not unless you’re Ghali—seen here in a selection of looks, chosen and styled by GQ, from the Armani archive—the barrier-breaking Italian Tunisian trap star. The collision of Italy’s illustrious past with its red-hot future highlights the designer’s unique ability to withstand time and trends.

Standing in a cool and hushed greige concrete gallery in Milan, I am about six inches from what I reckon to be the most important piece of menswear in the world. It is a suit jacket, worn by a headless mannequin. Unlike in the room across town that houses one of the city’s greatest works of art, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, there are no security barriers or high-strung guards here. In fact, it would be so very easy for me to lean just a little closer and do what I usually do when checking out clothes: reach out and touch. That, though, would be sacrilege.

All clothing, shoes, and accessories from Emporio Armani Archive, fall-winter 2012 collection.

The jacket in question—handpicked by Richard Gere on a scouting trip to Armani’s Milan atelier—is one of the oldest pieces on display here, dating from a time when Armani was still a scrappy up-and-comer, a medical student turned window dresser turned fashion designer who was emerging, in his 40s, from a life of obscure normalcy into an extraordinary life of fame.

Of course, it was this pale-gray-meets-cream jacket that triggered the big-bang moment when it was chosen by Gere to wear in his role as Julian Kay in American Gigolo. It was this jacket that went on to pretty much change the silhouette of menswear forever and transform the fortunes of Mr. Armani. Suddenly, menswear—tailoring, in particular—became easier, seductively comfortable, and, for the first time, cool. Only a few years before this jacket, Armani had sold his beloved VW Beetle to fund his fashion start-up. He was just beginning to make waves in the U.S., with an exclusive Barneys account—but he was by no means a big deal. Within two years of the movie’s release, Armani was on the cover of Time magazine (and he has since gone on to amass a personal net worth of somewhere around $7.8 billion).

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