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He’ll always have Paris.
But Giorgio Armani made Tuesday night in the French capital extra special, staging the latest of his “One Night Only” extravaganzas, headlined by an exotica-tinged spring Privé collection, a retrospective exhibition and a lavish dinner sprinkled with an array of international film stars. Guests included Sophie Marceau and Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Huppert, Zhang Ziyi, Chiara Mastroianni and Alice Taglioni.
Easy to spot in a beaded orange jacket, Kristin Scott Thomas pounced on the “Eccentrico” couture showcase with a mission: finding a cream-colored gown she once wore to the Cannes Film Festival.
“People are always trying to put me in black, but I love color,” she said, eyes hungrily scanning the array of dresses, lit like beacons in the darkened room.
Speaking of color, singer Paloma Faith toured the party with her new blonde hair, a switch from her trademark red.
“I went on holiday and I got a suntan, and I thought it would be ridiculous to have orange hair and orange skin, so I’m waiting for the tan to fade before I go back,” she explained.
Also in attendance was Claudia Cardinale, who said she now has 137 films under her belt, including the upcoming “The Silent Mountain,” an Austrian production set during World War I that stars British actor William Moseley. “What’s incredible is that I’m 75 and still working,” said the perennially smiling screen legend.
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The evening began with a cocktail gathering in the vast lobby of the Palais de Tokyo, walls lined with bronze silk panels. Then guests settled in for the Privé show headlined by magnificent eveningwear. Called Nomade, the collection tied together the strains of the exotica Armani loves. “This is a woman who moves around the world and picks ideas from the beautiful things she sees, what moves her emotionally: the color of a skirt, jewelry that can be ethnic or not,” the designer said during a preview. He described the collection as a “mélange of things — not typically Indian or African or European. She moves with an Armani spirit in her head.”
Of course, that Armani spirit has men’s wear roots, which have impacted the designer’s women’s aesthetic from the start. Here, he flaunted the connection by day, transforming necktie foulards and stripes into statement daywear, typically small jackets over voluminous skirts and pants. The prevailing sober-toned shine and numerous arabesque embellishments suggested nonspecific Eastern influences.
Though attractive, some of these looks projected an hauteur that felt out of step in the midst of this otherwise let’s-get-real season.
Not so with the eveningwear. Armani delivered options of look and mood — the elegance of a tailored jacket over pants, the danger of a glittering mesh shawl over transparent blouse and plissé skirt.
But it was his gowns that captivated most. He turned that too-often mundane classic, the strapless ballgown, memorable many times over, layering crystal-embroidered crinolines and laces over rich silks — jacquard, gazar, organza — often in mesmerizing shades of deep blue. Always he varied the line and details to make each dress unique — just as couture should be.
Armani joined the high-fashion club in 2005 and confessed in an interview that it took a while to find the right creative orientation — and to understand the business dynamics. “This is normal,” he said. “Even among very wealthy women, some are fond of tradition while there are others who want to be more modern, so it is difficult to find the balance between the two things.”
He certainly found it with his fall 2013 couture, which oozed Thirties glamour in a palette of nude shades. “The collection was very successful and sold very well,” he said, attributing that to the fact that it was “understandable” and less experimental.
“For me, couture is the kingdom of imagination, creativity and experimentation, and this is how I approach it. I do, however, remain pragmatic and realistic,” he explained. “I see it as a collection of unique items, but items that are designed to be worn.”
He allowed that his couture activity still makes losses — par for the course given the high costs and miniscule audience — though much improved.
Still, he’s marched the couture further upscale to distinguish it further from his ready-to-wear, and to meet the expectations of clients for embellishments and exceptional fabric research.
Armani was unequivocal that couture has burnished his brand image, helping fuel sales of his rtw lines, eyewear, cosmetics “and everything else.”
The Paris event, following other “One Nights” in New York and Rome last year, sent a message that Armani has faith in Europe, which has been roiled by economic crisis. “I am starting to see signs of a recovery here, too, in actual fact, and this encourages me,” he said. “Europe still has plenty to give and we need to recognize this.”
The designer continues to invest in the French market, and recently renovated his Collezioni store on Avenue George V, one of his most successful in Paris. Armani now has seven boutiques in the French capital, having added a sumptuous new women’s-only retail concept on the remote end of Avenue Montaigne last year.
Not surprisingly, given his taste for understatement, Armani said he relates strongly to the offhand chic of Parisian women. “There is a French touch, a certain type of elegance that can only be found here,” he said. “They have a way of dressing and presenting themselves that highlights their femininity, but without any form of affectation.”
A fan of Paris, particularly the 7th arrondissement, Armani said he likes to walk the streets and take in the architectural splendor. “I love the wide avenues, the Haussmann constructions and the discrete chic of the 7th arrondissement. I like the people, I like to see how they act and dress,” he said.
He added that he usually takes home some macarons, admitting that pleasing the palate comes after pleasing the eye: “I choose them more for their colors than their flavor.”