Lion of Italian fashion roars back on to catwalk with a roar

A tanned, trim and newly energised Giorgio Armani closed the Autumn-Winter 2005 Milan menswear season yesterday.

Protocol dictates that the finale to the week's shows is always Giorgio Armani. Yesterday's show was held in the designer's custom-built theatre on Via Bergognone.

Even Armani would admit that a few seasons ago he was the old lion of Italian fashion and his collections seldom raised a roar any longer. But the designer, who turned 70 last year, is ready to reclaim his crown as King of Milan.

Speaking backstage after yesterday's show, the buff, gym-toned designer couldn't keep the smile off his face.

When asked how it felt to be dominating Milan again, Armani said: "It is a wonderful emotion and one I'm very grateful for. I had watched other designers absorb ideas I had introduced 30 years ago but now I feel my energy and interest has returned."

Armani's main-line collection was what he called "avante-garde for Armani but still wearable".

Underlined by the season's favourite fabric, velvet, Armani sculpted cardigan/jackets, trench coats and pin-striped trousers in navy, oyster and black.

If other houses made velvet suits look too fine and dandy, Armani made the fabric a serious proposition for day or night.

"There is a new harmony in the collection,'' said Armani who refused to separate clothes designed for sport, office, night and formal wear.

"Its a bit shopping-centre to divide the way men dress so obviously'', the designer says. "Men understand the harmony of mixing sport-inspired shapes with formal tailoring.''

Giorgio Armani has already gone down in fashion history as the man who relaxed formal tailoring and made it light, sensual and modern. His is a legacy every other designer has absorbed.

The surprise this season was that Armani, the quiet radical, has chosen to risk change and not rely on his formidable archive.

Armani's second line, Emporio Armani, shown earlier in the week was a masterclass in modern elegance. Without falling into the fancy-dress trap, Armani presented a complete wardrobe for the modern man with (you guessed it) velvet jackets, satin-collared shirts and rugged fox fur scarves thrown over the shoulder like hunting trophies.

Armani hates ugliness. He references films set in the golden age of elegance such as The Aviator and DeLovely to make his men look slim, proud and classically sexy.

"You see that the boxy tailoring of the 1940s makes men look like dwarfs,'' says Armani. "The tailoring of the 1930s makes men stand tall and proud.''

But this is a fashion show, not a history lesson. This season's Armani may look more formal and elegant but it feels light and modern.

It is gratifying to see Giorgio Armani - the man and the company - in such a match-tough mood. There is seemingly no stopping him.

Next week Armani shows his debut haute couture collection and opens a new chapter for arguably the greatest Italian designer of the 20th - and now the 21st - century.

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