The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mr Beige turns Signor Couture

Paris, Jan. 24: The Italian designer Giorgio Armani, who revolutionised women's fashion 30 years ago with the introduction of soft-tailored beige suiting for the career wardrobe, is staging another revolution in Paris today.

At an age when other business tycoons have long retired to their yacht or palazzo in Tuscany, the 70-year-old Armani is making his debut as a couturier with the opening show in the French haute couture season this morning.

In typically autocratic style, Armani, who is the head of a $2-billion lifestyle empire, is doing it his way. Brushing aside convention in this historic ' and historically expensive ' French industry established in 1868, he is staging his first haute couture show with the emphasis on accessibility and a price list attached.

Where other couturiers blush or feign selective hearing when asked how much one of their one-off creations costs, on the basis of if you have to ask, you can't afford it, Armani has nothing to hide.

His haute couture collection of evening wear, for spring/summer 2005, will be priced between '12,800 and '46,500 ' probably around the lower-to-mid reaches of a Chanel suit or Christian Dior cocktail dress, with three fittings.

'The rules of couture have changed. This is the modern side of French haute couture. And I'm modern,' Armani said yesterday, as he supervised the final fittings of his debut collection of 35 gowns.

Armani, who follows fellow Italians Valentino, the late Gianni Versace and Gianfranco Ferre, who have stormed the citadel of French haute couture, will stage two shows for 200 international press and buyers and a third show for 100 private clients today.

Guests will include actor Penelope Cruz, whom Armani considers the embodiment of his couture collection, named Priv'; make-up artist Gemma Kidd, who, as a guest of the American Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, is looking for a wedding dress for her marriage later this year to the Earl of Mornington; Kylie Minogue's boyfriend, Olivier Martinez; and Barbara Berlusconi, the daughter of the Italian Premier.

'I'm hoping I'm going to make money out of this,' Armani said. 'I don't want to take advantage by adding God knows how many euros to my prices. Look at the Oscars! Very often, the dresses are very simple satin. Haute couture should be more than that. I want to show the value of an expensive, but accessible, beautiful gown. '

He denied his couture debut was 'a flash in the pan'. 'I'll be here every season.'

'No more Mr Beige. Now I am Signor Couture.'

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