The House of Armani: The Early Years of the Fashion King

At 73 years old, he is still busy making people look good. Giorgio Armani is one of the preeminent Italian fashion designers in the world, still going strong after 33 years in the industry. Known for his classically tailored, sleek power suits and clean, high quality fabrics, everyone from the who’s who of Hollywood to the bankers on Wall Street have fallen in love with the Armani brand. Now, with over $1.5 billion in revenue and a retail empire that extends to more than 35 countries, Armani himself continues to maintain full control over his business. However, it has been a long, uphill journey for the designer to get where he is today.

Born on July 11, 1934, in the small northern Italian town of Piacenza, Armani grew up in a family of five that was hard working, but never had too much money to go around. His childhood was not an easy one. The realities of the Second World War in which Italy was caught at the time, were all too apparent to the young Armani. After losing two young friends to a war bomb, Armani and his sister also became the target of machine gun fire from an overhead plane. In an incident Armani calls “traumatic”, he threw his sister down in a ditch and threw his body over her for cover. “There were planes flying over us and we were under bombs all of the time,” he recalls. “Our parents used to wake us up at night to take us to the shelter.”

Armani and his family survived the war and relocated to Milan. It was a city decidedly marked by class division, and one in which Armani’s parents struggled to rebuild their life. They found it hard to find their footing in this much bigger and tougher city than their little town of Piacenza.

Armani recalls that it was a time of little open-mindedness. “If you were a man you had to be a notary, a lawyer, or a doctor,” he says. And so, he enrolled in the medical school at the University of Bologna, where he studied for two years to become a doctor. However, when he discovered that the sight of blood made him weak, Armani knew that line of work was not for him.

In 1953, Armani was called to fulfill his military obligations, which he accepted eagerly as a chance to clear his head and gain new direction in his life. For all of his experience, Armani was assigned to the infirmary. However, he quickly grew bored with his prospects and realized that war life was not the romantic notion he had seen in the movies. “I was feeling frustrated in the service, and was thinking about what else I could do with my life,” Armani recalls.

He took a short break from the service and took a trip to Milan that would forever change his life. That was where he met a friend of his who happened to work at La Rinascente, Milan’s largest department store, and who would give him his first break into the fashion industry. After the meeting, Armani said he had become a believer in destiny.

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