Compliments of Armani

Even in his native Italian, Giorgio Armani has to grasp for adjectives to describe the Getty Center. "Fantastic, beautiful, elegant, a very unique place," he exudes. And he says the same goes for greater Los Angeles, on which the designer last descended as sponsor and host of the 1994 Fire & Ice Ball. Another opportunity to play host brought him back--this time for friend Eric Clapton, who performed at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood at a preview of 40 historical guitars en route to Christie's New York for auction.

The designer may set off his perpetual tan with the same black basics every year, but he expects the rest of us to shop. And with more designer flagships than ever dotting Rodeo Drive, he says the L.A. women on his immediate radar never disappoint: At Eurochow last night, "what we saw was a very simple but modern style. Women here appreciate a very high-quality product."

Spare in dress and unfettered in expression, apparently. "You can be free in whatever you do here," Armani says. "I adore Los Angeles for that. To be rich here is not a fault. You're free to have beautiful houses of any style, free to have beautiful cars." And, best of all, free to shun preordained outfits and wear whatever beckons on a given day.

But if we're so great at pulling ourselves together, why do everyone and their cousin in this town think they need a stylist? No Hollywood entourage worth its weight in body glitter is without one, particularly during the Oscars countdown. Armani shakes his head. Although his publicist kept a list naming all the stars at the Clapton event who would be dressed in Armani, he says he loathes the escalating who'll-wear-what obsession. "It's become ridiculous because magazines and newspapers just talk about what a star is wearing and not about the movies. That's the first question they ask."

Still, it doesn't hurt to have a new generation of "Access Hollywood" names like Keri Russell, Ricky Martin or Lauryn Hill answer the question.

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