The comment by the exhibitions director of the Royal Academy of Arts that a fashion show would be staged over his "dead body" came back to haunt him yesterday in the sartorial form of Georgio Armani.
Norman Rosenthal welcomed the Italian fashion designer into the Academy's newly acquired building in Burlington Gardens, London, for the launch of an Armani retrospective spanning three decades of haute couture.
As 400 outfits, including dresses worn by Hollywood's A-list, glittered in the halls of the Academy, Mr Rosenthal acknowledged the irony of the moment. He hailed the designer's oeuvre as culturally influential and said Armani could be considered a contemporary artist.
"I know I'm famous for saying, 'Over my dead body will we do a fashion show', but I saw this exhibition when it was at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. I thought about all those artists who have been so connected with fashion - Botticelli, Monet, Matisse. All of them have their art centred in fashion," he said. The show, which has also been staged at the Guggenheim in New York and in Berlin, profiles Armani's seminal looks against a backdrop of large-screen catwalks and clips from films outfitted by the fashion house. The Hollywood section takes pride of place, with trophy outfits such as Julia Roberts' black jersey dress from the 2002 Oscars and Mel Gibson's kilt from Braveheart.
Mr Rosenthal said that the Royal Academy had always promoted art and design. "Maybe in the 18th century, arts and design meant something different, but today we see a great artist who has transformed all our lives whether we wear his clothes or not. The way we see fashion is very much due to the influence of Giorgio Armani. It has to do with the spirit of our times."
Armani, 69, said he was delighted to be considered a contemporary artist and dismissed critics who suggested a $15m donation to the Guggenheim, where he originally exhibited three years ago, had helped to secure his position in the arts scene.
The retrospective opens on Saturday, as the venue's inaugural exhibition.
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