The Royal Academy decides to put on some Giorgio Armani

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The Independent Online

After the commercial success of a retrospective on the designer Gianni Versace at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year, the Royal Academy is to stage a similar event around his compatriot, Giorgio Armani.

After the commercial success of a retrospective on the designer Gianni Versace at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year, the Royal Academy is to stage a similar event around his compatriot, Giorgio Armani.

An exhibition this autumn dedicated solely to the man who marketed understated chic in 1980s offices will include more than 400 pieces spanning a career of almost 30 years, alongside sketches, photo-graphs and videos.

Although details of the show are not yet published, it will be the first in the museum's new gallery in Burlington Gardens, central London – formerly the Museum of Mankind and the British Museum's Department of Ethnography. The ornate Victorian building, sited between the high-fashion thoroughfares of Savile Row and Old Bond Street, was bought by the Academy in 2001 for £5m and is being refurbished as part of a £40m project designed to double the exhibition space.

Some critics may sniff at the idea of an Armani show. Two years ago, even the Academy's own secretary, Norman Rosenthal, announced: "I personally wouldn't do an Armani exhibition."

It will no doubt be argued that Mr Armani, 68, is no more worthy a subject than was Versace, who was celebrated as much for his kitsch glamour as for any artistic style. This argument will hold even more weight for a gallery with the status of the Royal Academy.

The V&A at least is dedicated to the applied arts – fashion is an integral part of its permanent collection and fashion students the world over visit its archives. Even so, the show was given mixed reviews.

The same cannot be said of the Royal Academy, which is now, and always has been, linked with fine art rather than anything as frivolous as frocks.

There's no arguing with the pop cultural appeal of the Italian designers, however, who were presumably chosen to pull in large crowds. Fashion in general does wonders for attendance levels. The Mario Testino photographic show at the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square was almost universally panned, but it was also the most successful in that museum's history by far.

The Design Museum near Tower Bridge opened a retrospective of the shoe designer Manolo Blahnik's work earlier this year. Also currently in on the act is Zandra Rhodes, who, on Monday, opens a self- funded Fashion & Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, south London, dedicated to the subject. The first exhibition – "My Favourite Dress" – includes contributions from international designers – among them Armani and Versace – which features their favourite creations. An Ossie Clark retrospective is also opening at the V&A in South Kensington this summer and the gallery will stage a larger show featuring the work of Vivienne Westwood early next year.

Perhaps there is no surprise in the organisers dedicating a section of the Armani retrospective to Hollywood. Armani dresses many of the men at the Oscars awards each year and leading ladies also rely on his advice. Richard Gere's wardrobe in American Gigolo, which has attained a certain iconic status, was his work.

"I have always seen fashion as an opportunity for cultural exchange," the designer said in London this week. Then, returning any compliment in the well-mannered style his marketing people would relish, he added: "And London today represents the international crossroads for creative ideas – a true melting pot."

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