Richard Gere as Julian Kaye, high-price L.A. escort
Palm Springs, Spring 1980
Film: American Gigolo
Release Date: February 8, 1980
Director: Paul Schrader
Costumer: Bernadene C. Mann
Costume Coordinator: Alice Rush
Richard Gere’s Costumes: Giorgio Armani
For Richard Gere’s 68th birthday (happy birthday, Richard!), I’m taking a look at the role that made him famous: high-profile escort Julian Kaye in the stylish 1980 neo-noir American Gigolo.
Julian, riding high at the top of the L.A. escort scene, is called in by pimp Leon (Bill Duke) to fill in for one of his regulars for a client in Palm Springs. Unaware of the circumstances ahead of him, Julian finds himself at the swanky home of Mr. and Mrs. Rheiman, a yuppie couple looking to have the husband’s cuckold fantasy fulfilled as usual.
What follows is the most pivotal night of Julian’s young but eventful life as he finds himself submerged in a murder mystery before he can even comprehend what’s happening…and how to get out of it.
What’d He Wear?
American Gigolo‘s distinctive ambience owes a lot to the two Giorgios: Italian music composer Giorgio Moroder who scored the film and emerging fashion designer Giorgio Armani. Armani, a former window dresser who cut his teeth as a designer for Nino Cerruti, founded his own label in the mid 1970s and was looking for major exposure for his high-end but accessible couture. Armani found the perfect outlet for his creativity and ambitions when tasked with designing the costumes for American Gigolo‘s voguish lead… John Travolta.
Travolta left the project with nary two weeks to production, and Richard Gere swiftly assumed the challenge of stepping into Julian’s stylish shoes. Rather than undergoing a complete redesign, Julian’s Armani wardrobe was simply re-tailored for the differently built Gere. The decision was fortuitous for both Armani and Gere, establishing both as bona fide stars in their respective industries.
Filmed in 1979 and released early the following year, American Gigolo kicked off “the Armani revolution” as Julian Kaye’s narrow, unstructured “second skin” style marked an immediate departure from the floppy collars and bell bottoms characteristic of the disco era to in the slim new look for the ’80s.
One of the most distinctive items in American Gigolo is the high-yoked single-button gray sport jacket that Julian wears when calling upon the Rheimans of Palm Springs. The jacket exemplifies the tailored yet relaxed silhouette that Armani achieved by deconstructing the restrictive lining and padding from his suits and jackets, building up the natural shoulders on Gere’s jacket with roped sleeveheads and a distinctive yoke that slightly curves out from the collar along the shoulders.
This single-breasted jacket has narrow and short lapels that end well above the jacket’s single button with low, wide notches. The low stance of the single front button is closer to the belt line. The Italian influence is evident with the curved “barchetta” breast pocket opening and the straight jetted hip pockets. There are three buttons on each cuff.
Colored in the medium gray end of Armani’s signature “greige” spectrum, a close looking at the suiting reveals a gray basketweave micro-check, possibly woven silk or a silk-wool blend.
Julian’s shirt is also gray silk, albeit a much lighter gray in a luxurious linen/silk blend. The front placket is stitched very close to the edges unlike the traditional English placket. The shirt has two flapped set-in pockets on the chest with no buttons on the wide flaps. The wide cuffs are each tightly fastened with a single button. Julian wears no undershirt.
Julian’s slim green dotted silk is a dull shade of green that appropriately enough resembles “Hooker’s green”, a pigment named after English botanical illustrator William Jackson Hooker that also happens to describe Julian’s profession. Julian rakishly wears the tie a few inches too long, extending below the waistline and starkly contrasting against the dark trousers like an arrow suggestively pointing to his groin… essentially advertising his services.
The gray tones continue through the outfit with Julian’s dark charcoal darted flat front trousers, worn with a narrow gray leather belt.
Julian’s unique gray leather belt coordinates with his gray leather loafers, worn with black socks to continue the leg line of his dark trousers.
Roots has been credited with Gere’s footwear and belts in the movie, though the brand seems to have evolved away from the dressier offerings showcased in American Gigolo.
Julian’s tank watch, suggested to be either Cartier or Omega, is a timepiece befitting a man of his wealth and era. Hardly ashamed to flash his status, Julian wears his watch with the dial facing inward, a style typically preferred by ex-military operatiors (which he might be) or people trying to conceal their luxury accessories (which he assured he is not!)
Julian also sports a pair of large sunglasses with light tortoiseshell frames and brown gradient lenses, almost certainly an Armani product and one of the few items Julian wears that nods to the excessively wide fashions of the late ’70s.
Though American Gigolo is very much a film of its era, its sartorial impact endures – particularly for its star and designer. As Chris Laverty wrote for Clothes on Film: “This film established the Armani brand, and not just for years to come, but forever.” For Richard Gere’s role in that establishment, Armani continues to pay it forward and Gere reportedly can walk into any Armani store around the world and pick out the clothing of his choice gratis. (Source: The Guardian)
Julian Kaye showcases the effectiveness of mixing shades of gray, aided by the fashion-forward designs of Giorgio Armani.
- Gray basketweave micro-check silk/wool single-breasted 1-button tailored sport jacket with distinctive shoulder yokes, short, narrow notch lapels, curved “barchetta” welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Pale gray linen/silk shirt with narrow point collar, plain front, two flapped set-in chest pockets, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- “Hooker’s green” dotted silk tie
- Dark charcoal darted flat front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Narrow gray leather belt with small rounded gold single-prong buckle
- Gray leather loafers
- Black socks
- Gold tank watch with a black dial on smooth black leather strap
- Light tortoiseshell large-framed Giorgio Armani sunglasses with brown gradient lenses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Giorgio Armani’s contributions to Richard Gere’s wardrobe in American Gigolo has been well documented in the nearly 40 years since the film’s release. To read more, check out:
- AnOther (Maisie Skidmore)
- Classiq (Ada Pîrvu)
- Clothes on Film (Chris Laverty)
- GQ UK (Kevin Perry)
- The Guardian (Imogen Fox)
- Men’s Flair (Andrew Hodges)
- Robb Report (Jill Newman)
This has been one of the most requested films on BAMF Style, so I will continue to explore Gere’s screen-worn outfits in detail.