“I have found myself in the position of a revolutionary. A revolutionary who has always defended the right to be normal, as an extreme mooring of sophistication, a point of arrival in which the details, above all, are important. Thus operating by substraction, by removal, using ordinary elements, I have, they say, turned around the very concept of elegance. My revolution has not always been evident to all, perhaps because it was not as dramatic as most revolutions imagine themselves to be, but over time it has proven to be much more incisive.” (Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani Magazine n°14, 1995)
Giorgio Armani, who has recently turned 80, indeed revolutionized fashion and it was Richard Gere’s wardrobe in the film American Gigolo (1980), where he plays male escort Julian Kaye, that launched the designer’s career. Since then on, menswear has not been quite the same. Talking about his designs, Armani stated that his notions of deconstruction were even political in as much as he was advocating a change to the status quo. Replacing the confining traditionally tailored Savile Row suit, Giorgio Armani introduced a notion of fluidity and ease of movement that reshaped the design of formal menswear. He achieved this more relaxed silhouette by knocking the stuffing out, removing the padding and dispensing with the lining. He also lightened the weight of the suit, replacing tweed and flannel with softer fabrics, such as wool crêpe, which resulted in the same ease of wear and free-fitting as could be found in a knitted cardigan. Linen and silk suiting became part of the men’s wardrobe as well. Armani created an aesthetic of luxurious, soft, understated elegance.
Above, Julian wears a double-breasted light grey flannel jacket with more defined shoulders. This is a semi-formal outfit, where he wears separates instead of a suit, without elegance suffering one bit.
Throughout the film, Gere sports everything from formal to casual attire, from leisure-wear to evening clothing, the complete wardrobe of the modern man – although I should mention that not everything he wears is Armani, but the prominent part is.
The whole style of the film was influenced by Italy, as director Paul Shrader was telling GQ. “Los Angeles is an over-photographed city and has that punishing sunlight. It’s hard to find a new way to shoot LA. I got around that by going to Italy and bringing back Ferdinando Scarfiotti. He had been the art director on Bertolucci’s The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris and eventually he won an Oscar for The Last Emperor. It was Nando who was the driving visual force for the film.” Maybe it’s the art direction too, but there is definitely something Italian about Richard Gere’s style and attitude.
In the famous scene when he lovingly lays out his suits on his bed, it’s obvious that Julian loves his clothes, and that looks are important to him. This is one film in which clothes themselves, not only in connection with the character, play a major role, and that’s what cemented Armani’s success.
This is such a relaxed, yet elegant look. Linen, and especially a linen jacket (ventless and longer than typical in this case), with its unstructured silhouette, easily lends the look this quality. This ensemble is also an exemplification of Armani’s signature muted colour palette which he created: one ranging from grey, beige and greige, to anthracite and taupe.
The shirt, except when worn with a formal suit, is always unfastened at at least two buttons. As a rule, the maximum number of undone buttons allowed, on any given hot summer day, is three.
The Armani sunglasses are a nod to the 1950s Ray-Ban Wayfarer style, except that these come with larger frames and in a lighter tortoise-shell finish. It was the ’80s when, thanks to films like American Gigolo, Risky Business (Tom Cruise wears the classic Wayfarer style there) and Top Gun (here is my article on the fashion in the film), the eyewear was again elevated to legendary status. The ’60s were probably the only other decade when sunglasses made such a style statement, thanks to Audrey Hepburn’s Oliver Goldsmith iconic pair in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (follow the link to read more about her costumes) and Steve McQueen’s Persol shades in The Thomas Crown Affair.
The fitted, retro style blue jeans are probably the only item from Richard Gere’s wardrobe that I wouldn’t care to see revived today. But they are still better than the skinny jeans so many men wear nowadays. The overall look however, completed with an open neck shirt and blazer, is worth taking note from. The Italians have this look perfected to a science.
Shawl neck cardigan worn with linen pants, fitted shirt (which is usually in contrast to the loose shape of the jackets, or cardigan in this case) with short collar points, narrow patterned tie and thin leather belt (the only kind Julian wears).
To please my style-in-film set mind (that costumes have a narrative role as well), I will note that at the beginning of the film, Gere is meticulously pressed, but as the film evolves and the plot darkens, his clothes become wrinkled and “worn”, reflecting the changes his character goes through. Regardless of this aspect however, the Armani wardrobe in American Gigolo represents one of the biggest influences on fashion.
PS: If you are interested in the costumes of Richard Gere’s equally stylish counterpart, Lauren Hutton, here is my article on the subject.
photos: stills from the film, captured by me from this DVD edition