This Summer We’re Channelling: Billy Drago’s Armani White Suit in The Untouchables

“The Untouchables”, 1987 | Paramount Pictures
From the book “Giorgio Armani”

Movies shaped his imagination, his culture, his tastes. Giorgio Armani considers cinema has had a great role in shaping the man and the designer he is today. A visual world that has contributed a great deal to his own visual storytelling, to his sense of elegance and style and communication. Maybe that’s why Armani’s designs have always carried this narrative power, unlike any other fashion designer’s, waiting for the right man and woman to step into them and inhabit them. Even his preference of greys and neutral colours draws from his love of black and white movies. Just like the infinite shades of white and black of classic films invited to imagining a myriad of colours, Armani’s use of subtle nuances is a much more alluring invitation to discovering the person behind them than extravagant colours.

Mr. Giorgio Armani, in turn, gave back to cinema, leaving his mark on the world of film. More than that, “it is through cinema that I first reached the public and entered into the collective imagination.” He is referring, of course, to Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo and dressing Richard Gere for the part. Cinema has always been an intricate part of Armani’s designs. And maybe he understands film so well because, for him, clothes are more about attitude than shallow appearance, about the wearer’s personality that makes them come alive and desirable. Isn’t this why costume design is more enduring and far-reaching than catwalk fashion? It is the character the public usually wants to emulate.

“Cinema allows me to work with clothes in a way that
upholds my vision of style, in that I help to build a character.
It’s the kind of operation that, when it really works out well,
rewards you in the most satisfying of ways: eternity.”


Emporio Armani Spring/Summer 1989, photographed by Norman Watson
From the book “Giorgio Armani”

In The Untouchables (1987), Brian de Palma’s vision of the crime-ridden Windy City in the prohibition era, Billy Drago wears an Armani white linen suit and a Panama hat. He plays gangster Frank Nitti, and Billy said in an interview for The Void magazine that real Frank Nitti’s family, whom he got to meet during filming, “didn’t mind Frank being portrayed as such a villain; the legend is so big.” About his costume he said: “I wore a white suit in the movie because we thought of him as the angel of death.” That’s exactly what he is, and his clothes have this tremendous power to project that feeling, without too many words needed.

But, of course, being an Armani suit, it transcends the movie, the character, the symbolism, time. That’s the gift Giorgio Armani has given cinema and the public. It is a stand alone timeless piece. This is a man’s suit, but it works for women, too. Just a look at this Vogue Italia editorial photographed by David Bailey, or the Emporio Armani ad for Spring/Summer 1989, shot by Norman Watson (image above), and you’ll know what I mean. Because what better stands for Armani than the deconstruction of stereotypes, reinventing men’s and women’s fashion alike, creating a new kind of elegance, adapting his jacket to her body and dissolving its severe construction in a sensuous and powerful and harmonious line, freeing them from the rigidity of conventional dressing? “A less rigid allure to the male figure and a less mannered style to the female figure”, the kind of style that places a much higher importance to the “elegance of the gesture”, for the kind of man and woman who wear beautiful clothes with self-esteem and self-confidence, but never with pretentiousness.

And what better garment to prove this than Armani’s signature piece, the unstructured jacket, and, by extension, the suit? Following the line of the body without constraining it, conveying sensuality through the very fact that it falls so free on the human body, that it unveils without showing? Natural, instinctive elegance that enables free expression and a new order for the “power woman” and the “new man”. Giorgio Armani changed mentalities decades ago by changing fashion, and he did it subtly and more effectively than the rage and exhibitionism of today’s social media-induced movements ever could.

Quotes from the book Giorgio Armani
Related content: Style in Film: Richard Gere in American Gigolo / Natasha Richardson in The Comfort of Strangers: A Journey through the Armani Style of the 1990s / Mr. Giorgio Armani and That Simple T-shirt


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