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Living: A Spare Design for Living

4 minute read

What does a designer like Giorgio Armani do with three homes? Simple. As if they were so many jackets, he unconstructs them. Just a simple sweeping-clear, a concentration on line and form and spare the decoration.

His Milan apartment, on a dead-end street only a short walk from his office in Palazzo Durini, is a sort of luxury-class version of a Japanese monk’s cell. He shares the seven rooms with a gray Persian cat named Micio. Except for Micio and a Japanese screen, practically everything in the living area was designed by Armani himself, who is mulling over the addition of furniture to his assorted ventures. Certainly the low couches and chairs here, all covered with satinized cotton, and the sculpted rectangular table in a favorite Armani shade of taupe, represent a strong start. The room is coolly lit by a couple of sloping lamps Armani originally designed to show off one of his collections, and the most insistent color comes from a green tree by a narrow terrace that the Italians call albero della felicità (tree of happiness).

There is no decoration. “I furnished this place,” Armani explains, “by taking things off the walls.” The almost mathematical austerity of the apartment gives way, after a while, to a stealthy sense of tranquillity. It is a little like being in a rock garden, or in a museum where the patrons are the exhibit.

The apartment also contains an exercise room, a sizable stretch of bookshelf holding weighty volumes of everything from Erté’s costume designs to Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge (“Wonderful! My favorite! Uncle Scrooge is my partner! He’s Sergio Galeotti!”) and a bathroom with a tub of Carrara marble big enough for Shamu the Killer Whale. The tub, Armani’s one concession to abject luxury, also turns out, perhaps significantly, to be impractical. “It is so big,” he admits, “that the water gets cold before it fills up.”

His closet, however, returns to basics. “It’s not the wardrobe of a designer,” he apologizes, showing a lineup of five navy-blue jackets and one of cashmere wool. In a neighboring closet are a full supply of denim and leather jeans, some old shirts, underwear from Bloomingdale’s arranged by the housemaid in neat rows like grenadiers on parade, and an assortment of shoes, his own make as well as American and English.

Like many men without families, Armani has adopted his own, most of whom are employees of long standing who weekend with him at a converted farm house that he owns jointly with Galeotti, in Forte dei Marmi, about three hours’ drive from Milan. The decoration there is a kind of bucolic adaptation of the Milan digs, with the same aquatic excess: in this case, an Olympic-size pool. For sun, and the summers, Armani, Galeotti and pals repair to a Moorish-style domed house on the island of Pantelleria, 50 miles off the coast of Tunisia, where nature has supplied her own aquatic excess in the form of the Mediterranean.

Armani drinks little, smokes less and fusses over all clothing but his own. He usually comes to work dressed in jeans, an open-necked white shirt, a plain blue pullover of heavy cotton that would look swell in gym class (Armani Emporium line, $35) and a pair of rubber-soled suede shoes that Pat Boone might have worn down to the Old Malt Shoppe. Neckties—characterized by Armani, who makes some beauties, as “that ephemeral and traditional social symbol of masculine dignity, a ribbon of tissue that hangs on the thorax”—are as scarce around the palazzo as French designers. When he breezed in one day sporting a thoracic ribbon of his own, several members of the staff inquired if he were getting married.

He has become, inevitably, a celebrity, but the recognition can occasionally confound expectations. “That’s Giorgio Armani,” a stewardess alerted a steward when the man himself showed up, in his usual mufti, for a flight home from New York City. “No!” he said. “Dressed like that?”

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