The comments, which have drawn anger on Twitter, are the latest in a string of controversies to hit the normally gay-friendly fashion industry.
Last month, gay rights activists criticized designers Dolce and Gabbana for opposing gay adoptions. “The only family is the traditional one,” Domenico Dolce said, adding that children born to gay parents via in-vitro fertilization were “children of chemistry, synthetic children.” Stefano Gabbana agreed.
“How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic,’” Elton John angrily responded. “Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.”
Earlier this week, fashion’s first openly gay model couple described suffering homophobia in the industry. “My very first experience with modeling was homophobic,” John Tuite said. “The guy that scouted me online immediately told me his agency wouldn’t sign me because they ‘don’t work with gay men.’ Years later, the owner of that agency scouted me at an art show and I took the opportunity to tell her that I was very offended by what her booker had told me. But this woman, who is in fact a lesbian, backed it up and said that it was her own business strategy. In any other industry that would be a lawsuit, but because it’s ‘fashion,’ they get to call it ‘taste’ instead of discrimination.”
Armani’s interview, however, has the potential to cause the most damage. As the Times points out, Armani is a famously conservative designer but a notoriously candid interview subject. “He will talk about everything except his private life,” the article says. “No one denies he is gay. There’s a picture of his long-time companion in a silver frame next to where he is sitting. Yet, he won’t talk about him or any of his other partners.”
According to the article, that’s at least partly because Armani “is still worried that sales in Asia might fall if he dropped the mask.”
Instead of discussing his own sexuality, however, Armani decided to discuss homosexuality in sweeping terms that have landed him in hot water.
In a way, his seemingly dismissive statements about homosexuality were in line with other risque statements in the interview. He is apparently very fond of telling employees — men and women — to “get their balls out” when demanding they show some courage. In the interview, he readily shares a dislike for “muscle boy[s],” plastic surgery and fake boobs. He blames fellow designer John Galliano’s anti-Semitic 2011 rant on Dior. And he slams Italian politicians. “Italy needs a Margaret Thatcher. A very daring leader,” he says. “A woman with two balls — no, with four balls!”
By arguing that a gay man “does not need to dress homosexual” but should instead “be a man,” Armani appears to re-erect many of the boundaries that he himself tore down during his fashion career. And he exposed himself to ridicule from men and women, gay and straight.
Gay rights groups have yet to weigh in on Armani’s comments.