In 1980, Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo launched Giorgio Armani’s career. The designer went on to revolutionize fashion and, from then on, menswear, and womenswear, have never been quite the same. A decade later, when Armani heard that the director was going to film The Comfort of Strangers in Italy, he reportedly called and asked: “Can I give you anything?” Schrader answered: “Everything.” The entire leading cast in the film, from Natasha Richardson and Helen Mirren to Christopher Walken and Rupert Everett, were dressed in Armani. Today on Classiq, we are celebrating Giorgio Armani’s birthday.
Sneakers with dress, thirty years before the look became trendy.
Sometimes pretentious, sometimes tedious, sometimes bizarre, at all times visually enticing and unpredictable, the film is deeply unsettling. But despite the surpassing creepiness, The Comfort of Strangers (1990) is a spellbinding guide through the hauntingly beautiful Venice, through its hidden streets, dead ends and wrong turns, and evokes a hypnotic sense of the city few other films have – Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now remains the template for using decaying Venice as metaphor for the psychological disintegration of its characters.
English lovers Colin and Mary (Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson) return to Venice, the site of their rendezvous a couple of years prior, to rekindle their passion. Getting lost amidst the city’s picturesque canals and dark alleys, they happen upon Robert (Christopher Walken). Dressed in a white linen/silk suit, he is an enigmatic, strange local aristocrat, who regales the young couple with wine and with intimate tales of his youth, and tempts them to his Venetian palazzo for a brief rest, where they meet Robert’s wife, Caroline (Helen Mirren). Soon, the film takes an unexpected turn.
The four protagonists both perform with and display great style on the screen and it is visually that The Comfort of Strangers is indeed a great cinematic experience. A rich, stylish piece with a sleek, threatical approach. What renders the film its look is Dante Spinotti’s use of colours and lighting, as well as the set designs by Gianni Quaranta, Luigi Marchioness’ art direction and Giorgio Armani’s wardrobes, the Italian designer qualifying as one of the film’s auteurs. In other words, the film looks good. And Colin and Mary are good to look at, too. They must be, because not only is this quality the obvious reason for their mutual attraction, but it’s also what makes them the objects of desire for the other two, Robert and Caroline. Rupert Everett, in the prime of his youth, dressed in his casual Armani clothes. Natasha Richardson, a wholesome beauty with golden locks, all clad in Armani’s best. Schrader has noted that, after having Natasha live in a closet for one of his previous pictures, Patty Hearst (1988), Richardson was happy to work with him in a part that had her gorgeous and tanned and dressed in Armani in glamourous settings. “I think I looked pretty,” she said.
There is a sequence in the film where Mary and Colin are having dinner on the terrace of their hotel and at one point Mary realises that the people at the next table are talking about Colin and his looks and she approvingly tells him that. Colin thinks in turn that Mary must be the center of their attention. It’s universally accepted that they are good looking. And that their Armani clothes suit them.
Natasha wearing an unstructured suit jacket to dinner
Giorgio Armani’s designs beautifully serve the narrative, while providing a great reference to the Armani style, to the idea of simplicity and easy-to-wear elegance, which I believe is inextricably linked to the designer. Mary’s wardrobe is a harmony in colour and fabric: tones of brown, pastels, white and black, fluid shirts, unconstrictive knee-long skirts, effortless long dresses, casual day dresses and a gorgeous orange cardigan, wide belts and oversised jewellery. And, unlike Helen Mirren’s character, she seems at ease and free in her clothes, even when she wears a suit jacket on one of the evenings for dinner.
The “unstructured” jacket, the signature design Armani is best known for, is also the designer’s favourite piece from all his creations. Natasha wears hers buttoned up and it may have been worn over a dress, but most probably with a skirt, no blouse. It’s when she’s the most attractive. Giorgio Armani is a great modernist and his tailoring traded stiff formality for assured relaxation, suggesting new, natural, minimalist, effortless attitudes, a less mannered style of the female figure, while preserving elegance, sensuality and distinction. “I imagined women in new roles, women who no longer have to pull their skirts down over their knees when they sat down or unbutton their tight jackets as soon as they took their places at the table for a business meeting. The elegance of the gesture, for me, has always been of essential importance, it is an integral part of style and one’s way of dressing.” Mr. Armani, I’m with you.
sources: interview with Natasha Richardson, Los Angeles Times, 1991 / interview with Paul Schrader Los Angeles Times, 1990 / Giorgio Armani by Giorgio Armani / interview with Giorgio Armani from the book Fashion Now 2, 25th anniversary edition, published by Taschen
photos: movie stills | Erre Produzioni