Armani Goes Gaga

By Givhan, Robin | Newsweek, February 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

Armani Goes Gaga


Givhan, Robin, Newsweek


Byline: Robin Givhan

The reclusive designer has found his muse in Lady Gaga, and the outrageous frocks he has designed for her have freed him from his gilded cage.

After winning two Grammy Awards last year and swanning down the red carpet like a celestial debutante with her own orbiting moons, Lady Gaga is now up for album of the year for The Fame Monster. One can only assume--hope, pray--she will arrive at the Staples Center in Los Angeles wearing a costume more marvelously atrocious than anything even her most ardent fans, the little monsters, could fathom.

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, 24, steamrolled into the popular consciousness with accessible pop beats, an outre public persona, and a well-crafted personal history founded on the irresistible fable of the misunderstood outcast who now finds herself with more than 10 million Facebook friends. No matter how much one adores her songs or despises their ubiquity, it's impossible to separate her musical success from her fashion--a manner of dress that blurs the line between costume and couture. Her sensibility is too self-consciously considered to be madcap stagecraft. Yet it doesn't have the kind of eloquence that exemplifies French couture. It is, in essence, couture kitsch.

Gaga's relationship with the fashion industry is, as one might imagine, complicated. It is symbiotic, exploitative, audacious, and, at times, embarrassing. In the past, when fashion designers have glommed on to a new star, they have bent her to their will. If she is fat, she soon loses weight. If her hair is a jungle of curls, it's quickly flat-ironed. If her taste is too down-market, she swiftly goes upscale. The poor dear doesn't stand a chance when set upon by an industry of self-appointed Pygmalions.

This time, however, Gaga is calling the shots.

She reinvigorated Giorgio Armani, the veteran Italian designer who has often felt stifled by his own success. American Gigolo, Oscars, power suits. Gaga set him free. When her hoop-skirted, crystal-studded extravaganza appeared on the red carpet last year, Armani's staff sent an email across the fashion world identifying it as the work of the ever-discreet designer. One could only respond with "Holy bedazzlement!"

The experience left the septuagenarian designer sounding positively gob-smacked. "True creativity knows no bounds," he enthuses. "Life has an extra dimension made up of dreams, pleasure, and irony." Little monsters, please discuss and, if you can, tell us what that means.

Gaga's personal daring opened doors for her collaborator Nicola Formichetti--the stylist and fashion editor responsible for the meat frock she wore at the MTV Video Music Awards last fall. Formichetti now serves as the creative director of Thierry Mugler and is charged with raising the French brand from its moribund state. He's doing so based on what might be described as the Gaga doctrine.

"The way I work with Gaga is to be free and creative and to do something new," Formichetti says. "The starting point is always to be art, fashion, music, and performance art. That's how I deal with all my projects. And that's how I started with Mugler -- the Internet, digital communications, and marketing the clothing is as important as designing the clothing.

"I'm not an elitist," Formichetti says. "I want everyone to share what we're about."

And Gaga is not some high-strung fashion icon. She isn't setting a standard of dress for the masses. She has donned a coat stitched out of Kermits, worn dominatrix gear to a nursing home, and walked down the street in little more than her underpants. Fans might doll up for her concerts in wigs and colorful makeup, but Gaga hasn't popularized any major trends--and for folks with a sensitive stomach or a quaint devotion to propriety, this is probably for the best. Instead, she is the video vixen next door, a fashion shoot come to your street corner, performance art in your living room. …

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