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Armani's runaway runway

The Italian designer restages his Paris show here in time to make an Oscar splash.

February 24, 2007|Rose Apodaca | Special to The Times

WHO will take the prize Sunday night dressed in Giorgio Armani? Armchair fashion pundits are already hedging bets, in part due to the Italian designer's conspicuous presence here this weekend, specifically his last-minute decision to reprise the couture collection he showed in Paris only last month.

Could it be Cate Blanchett, who sat in the first row at the Paris show? What about Penelope Cruz? Or Jennifer Hudson?

That's the kind of question that will be on the minds of even the more jaded of the 350 VIP guests who will get beyond ironclad security and into the maharajah fantasy world and couture show that Armani will stage tonight at Ron Burkle's Green Acres Estate in Beverly Hills. The trio of nominated actresses will be there, along with Armani's friend and best-director nominee Martin Scorsese, whose second part of a documentary on Italian cinema, underwritten by Armani, will finally be released next year.

"He's been busy," winked Armani, during fittings early Friday morning with some of the 62 models enlisted for tonight's show.

He may as well be referring to himself. Armani has always proved himself a man of action. But it appears this week the 72-year-old designer set out to reaffirm just how much the old master still has it in him.

He went straight from LAX on Thursday evening into the maze of pristine white offices above his Rodeo Drive flagship. Less than 72 hours before, he was standing inside La Triennale art museum in his hometown of Milan, personally receiving the more than 1,800 guests filing in for his party. It was the close of a grueling day for even the most Red Bull-charged fashion minion, one that began with a news conference and tour of the designer's extensive retrospective. The fall runway presentation of his signature line followed that very afternoon. The next day there was yet another show, this time for his secondary Emporio Armani brand.

But Armani, as usual, never had any doubts about his plan.

"The decision to restage the [Paris] show came 10 minutes after it ended," Armani recalled. "I knew it was a very spectacular, very glamorous collection. That made it a good reason to bring it here. I had invitations to come to parties, but it's always good to have a big reason. Otherwise people get bored of you."

Boredom is not an option in the Armani camp (30 of the designer's entourage accompany him to L.A.). At his flagship store Thursday night, Armani embraced Leonardo DiCaprio as the Oscar nominee left his fitting, before turning to personally attend to a nip and tuck to trousers still hanging on Mark Wahlberg (also an Oscar nominee, also confirmed for the party).

In what's become an annual rite, many fashion designers race from their runway shows in Milan and New York to L.A. in the hopes of personally wooing an actress into their wares or to become included in the post-award party coverage. Hedi Slimane of Dior Homme, Zac Posen, Burberry's Christopher Bailey and J. Mendel's Gilles Mendel have already been making the party rounds this week, including the picnic today co-hosted by Barry Diller and his designing other half, Diane von Furstenberg. And the revamped British house Mulberry, which opened a shop on Melrose Place last year, introduced designer Stuart Vevers on Wednesday night at a dinner co-hosted by Mischa Barton at the very private temporary Oscar-week hangout SoHo House.

While these designers make it their business to get cozy with starlets, Armani reigns among the most powerful of Hollywood's elite. He dressed Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and their entire wedding party for their recent nuptials. And Clint Eastwood, George Clooney and Robert De Niro have been photographed in no other designer tux for more than a decade.

He practically created the red carpet fashion frenzy. Armani was the first to have the right team in place to act as liaison between Hollywood and his house. For the film buff, that has also upped the ante on his costume collaborations on films, which famously got started with 1980's "American Gigolo."

Still, for all his love of Hollywood as an art, he hasn't spent much time in this town. This is his first visit in three years, and it will be only his second time at the Academy Awards. He accompanied Scorsese to the Oscars in 1991. The director lost and it rained.

"It has already rained, so perhaps...." He stops short of making a prediction.

He already had his fill this week of the occasional weight of his words. With age comes the inevitable drum knell of retirement. With no heirs, the worlds of fashion and finance have been keeping hawk-eyed vigilance on the $6.6-billion man. A German reporter this week asked him if it were true that he was considering a sale to L'Oreal. He replied that he would "open the company to the best offers," and within hours there were stories that he was, in fact, selling the company to the cosmetics behemoth.

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