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Icon of image-making

September 12, 2003|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

They lined up like airplanes on a runway, fussing with their hair and their hemlines as they waited their turn before the cameras. Preening was at a premium on this night as the guest of honor, Giorgio Armani, had dressed most everyone there.

"Should I take this off?" Michelle Pfeiffer asked her publicist, lifting a black velvet wrap off her bare arms to reveal the beaded Armani dress beneath. Other relative lesser-knowns -- Jennifer Love Hewitt, Debra Messing, Brendan Fraser, Thora Birch -- queued up behind her. An ebullient Christian Slater threw back his head and shouted, "We fight to wear his clothes! We beg! We claw!" Jodie Foster was there too, poised and classic, speaking reverently of the designer, whom she called "just a simple man."

Then Sophia Loren (so tanned! so glamorous!) arrived arm-in-arm with her "best friend," Armani, and the paparazzi frenzy began in earnest. "This is better than the Oscars!" said one veteran photographer.

And indeed, the A-list actors turned out en masse on this moonlit Tuesday night in Beverly Hills to fete a man with whom they entrust their most precious commodity: their image. The shindig was hosted by the merchants of Rodeo Drive to inaugurate the Walk of Style, Beverly Hills' version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Foster told the crowd she became an Armani devotee after the press lambasted her in 1988 for wearing a dress that "looked like I sat in a wedding cake. I wised up pretty fast," she said. Pfeiffer, one of Armani's first celebrity clients, noted sagely, "He would never make you look foolish."

Those who couldn't make it -- namely Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese -- sent love notes to Armani that Messing read to the crowd. To Roberts, Armani is "brilliant!" De Niro called him "the maestro." Scorsese considers him "more cinematic than Fellini." In fact, praise for the snow-haired designer reached such a crescendo that Steve Martin seized on it for a few punch lines. He opened his comments reading what he said was Armani's biography, only to confess mid-sentence that he'd mistakenly read from that of Leonardo Da Vinci.

"If Mr. Armani could design clothes for everyone in the world, we would no longer have wars," said Martin, "just events."

As part of the $18-million renovation of Rodeo that began last month, merchants will select a series of fashion luminaries to be honored with plaques embedded in the sidewalk. Armani's is the first name to grace the path along with his quote: "Fashion and cinema. Together for life."

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