I’m just old enough to remember when Armani was it. The 1980s. A new luxury mall had just opened up in town with boutiques from most of Italy’s heavy-hitters like Versace, Ungaro, and, of course, Armani who was showing women’s shorts that season. All this and an indoor-skating rink too. It was a flop.
On my way to Milan to interview Armani, of course I packed my one and only Armani item, a black-and-white satin blazer (Black Label, hello), to be worn with black slacks and white shoes. I suppose it was a small mercy that my luggage got lost at the Milan airport otherwise I would have looked like a waiter. The carousel went round-and-round. By the time I slipped into the back seat of the sleek black limo waiting for me and manned by a former Armani model—my personal driver for the week—I was wearing the only clothes I’d have during the whole trip. What’s that saying, ‘hubris, then nemesis’?
Armani was launching a woman’s fragrance, Sensei, with his new business partner, L’Oreal. They pulled out all the stops. Dinner at Nobu, discounted shopping sprees at Armani boutiques, an free night’s stay at the hotel, and a personal driver to get around Milan or anywhere else the mood might strike. (Lake Como, please and thank-you.) The fragrance was a flop.
I was shadowing make-up artist Pat McGrath backstage as she was prepping the models for the fashion show. Armani would appear and disappear, like a cat. Poof! He would bring a model to Pat, request a change here and there, and then, poof, gone.
Ahead of a group interview, his public relations attaché informed us that Armani had a birthday coming up in a few days’ time and he was in an uncharacteristically good mood. He must have been because one of the Italian journalists started her query with, “Mr. Armani, you’ve obviously had plastic surgery…” The PR-woman went limp. “Now, if I had had surgery, would my nose look like this?” Armani said with a smile. Still, it felt like we were on borrowed time and the interview wrapped up soon after.
By now I had been awake for over 48-hours and still in my original duds. After the fashion show, there was a simple buffet luncheon. I thought if I could just eat a few bites I might be able to keep standing for a few more hours. For insurance, I took my plate and leaned against a pillar. I hoped that when I lost consciousness I could simply glide down the pillar like a petal. My back touched the cool marble. My eyelids closed. The thrum of the room began to fade.
“Bongiorno.” He was standing in front of me. I blinked hard. “Bongiorno,” I replied. Armani immediately switched to French and began to ramble about “Russe” this and “Russe” that. Naturally I assumed he was complimenting me on my red hair. I nodded vigorously and threw in some “Oui!” After a few long minutes, he shuffled off. Dang, if only I had my Armani jacket, that could have done the talking.
So funny to think that this fashion mogul started out as a window dresser but was fired because his employer thought he was a daydreamer. Armani is one of the shrewdest businessmen on the planet. He owns the buildings that house his boutiques; he has expanded his brand to home decor, cosmetics, luxury hotels, yachts, chocolate, and now that most of it is manufactured in China, his pockets are even more flush. This is one savvy cat.
Armani never looks more miserable than when he’s hobnobbing at the Met Ball—and never happier than at home with his cats, or on his yacht with his cats, or on his island in Pantelleria—with his cats.
You know you’ve made it when you’ve got luxurious solitude. Hold the cats.