Elements of Style: Pantsuits at an Exhibition

Armani at the Guggenheim

But let's not pick on Blonsky (though his essay does manage to disinter the battered corpse of Karl Marx and force even him to join the chorus of Yes, Giorgios). Plenty of other folks fall over each other in the catalog, including Vogue's Hamish Bowles, who, in an essay called "Armani and Hollywood," has a novel way of describing Armani's practice of shipping crates of free clothes to celebrities before Oscar night, hoping to get publicity in exchange for clothes: "Armani has developed symbiotic relationships with today's stars."

The exhibit does break new ground in one respect—print ads, billboards, and other selling tools Armani has employed over the years are deemed worthy of inclusion in the show. (If you can't bear to leave without a souvenir, note cards decorated with Armani ads are available in the three gift shops that punctuate the exhibit.) The catalog, too, finds room to extol the virtues of Armani advertisements. Susan Cross, in an essay about a magazine spread depicting three barely dressed teenage girls, says, "an advertisement for the spring/summer 2000 women's collection features a triad of Lolita-like beauties in barely-there bikinis, sheer hot pants, and cropped tanks. . . . This representation of woman (or girl) as object of desire is one of a number of guises traditionally offered to women that we can now choose to appropriate and re-create." How fresh and new: see-through hot pants for a 12-year-old to appropriate and re-create.

If someone only slightly younger than these half-clad nymphs accompanies you to the Guggenheim, the museum supplies a "Family Activity Guide" full of pictures of white people in Armani ensembles. "Imagine that you are wearing one of these suits," the Activity Guide instructs. "Circle the word or words below that might describe your feelings if you were wearing this suit." Suggestions include "formal," "important," "comfortable," "proud," and "elegant." For some reason, the museum forgot "spoiled," "craven," "unprincipled," "$15 million."

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