Giorgio’.s girl Admired for her acting skill and luminous beauty, one-time tomboy and now reclusive star Michelle Pfeiffer has the best of both worlds – as loving mother to two children and muse to fashion legend Giorgio Armani, KAREN MOLINE discovers.
She has played a murderous mum, a mobster’s wife, a witch, a French aristocrat and a steamy chanteuse, but perhaps Michelle Pfeiffer’s favourite role, aside from being a mother, is as the muse and glamorous clotheshorse for fashion icon Giorgio Armani.
Theirs is a mutually rewarding relationship: he makes her look good and she makes his clothes look sensational. Yet, more than that, they share a close friendship that began more than 20 years ago, when the designer noticed Michelle in the 1983 movie, Scarface, and offered to dress her.
”I didn’t know people in the movie industry did such things,” she says.”I remember thinking. ”Why do I want someone to dress me? I can dress myself. And who is Giorgio Armani?’ I was totally clueless when it came to fashion and have pretty much remained that way. But, thanks to him, it has gone pretty much undetected all these years.”
Although she hasn’t made a movie since 2002, when she gave a chilling portrayal of a manipulative murderer in White Oleander, Michelle is still regarded as one of the best actress of her generation.
For two decades, the notoriously shy star, who is married to Ally Mcbeal creator/producer David E.Kelley and has two children, 12-year-old Claudia Rosa, and John Henry, 10, has worn Armani clothes on and off the red carpet. So it is not surprising that she agreed to model Giorgio Armani’s 2005 Spring/Summer collection.
”She has been a muse, an inspiration and a loyal and dear friend,” says an admiring Giorgio, whose sleek, nav, long-sleeved column dress, especially designed for her to wear to the 1990 Academy Awards, helped usher in a new era of Hollywood dressing.
”It is obvious why I’ve stayed true blue – or should that be true midnight blue,” says Michelle. ”Giorgio is an artist and he never gets it wrong. His clothes make you feel classy, elegant, sexy and smarter for having chosen to wear them. And he is versatile and flexible enough to adjust to my sometimes schizophrenic personality … sometimes, I’ll get in a mood to try something a little daring.”
One such time was her decision, some years back, to have a pair of Armani trousers re-cast as bell-bottoms, which she then wore to the Emmy Awards. Fortunately, Giorgio was ”gracious enough to look the other way”. There have been no repeat performances. ”He is always there to save me from myself,” Michelle says.
All this haute couture is a far cry from Michelle’s decidedly no-frills upbringling. Born on April 29, 1958, the second of four children to Donna and Dick Pfeiffer, she grew up in Midway City, California, a tomboy who liked to hang out with surfers. She started a series of part-time jobs when she was only 14 – in a clothing store, for an optometrist, a jeweller, a printer, in a preschool and as a checkout girl in a supermarket.
Michelle remembers thinking, ”This is my life and I hate it – what am I going to do?” All she wanted to do was acting.
In 1977, she summoned the courage to have professional photographs taken. Next thing she knew she had won the 1978 Miss Orange County contest, got an agent and made her television debut in late 1978 with an episode of Fantasy Island. A year later, she was co-starring in a TV sitcom called Delta House, played Bombshell and submitting to the indignity of a padded wardrobe.
”I used to call my agent, crying that they were putting me in hot pants again. I had two sets of falsies,” she recalls.
She persevered with small movie roles and, in 1982, starred in the ill-fated and completely forgettable Grease 2. Luckily for Michelle, she bounced back the next year with Scarface, followed by Ladyhawke (1985), The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Married to the Mob (1988).
Michelle says her early days in acting were a battle against typecasting. ”I got a lot of, ‘You know, sorry, you’re too pretty’,” she recalls. Since then, she has starred in Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Batman Returns. She famously rejected leading roles in the movies Basic Instinct, Silence of the Lambs, Sleepless in Seattle and Thelma & Louise.
Between 1999 and 2002, she made only one film a year – The Story of Us, What Lies Beneath, I Am Sam and White Oleander – and hasn’t been seen on film since, although she did the voice of the Goddess of Chaos in the animated movie Sinbad, released in 2003.
It’s not that Michelle is suffering from the lack of good roles for actresses over 40. It just that her priorities have shifted. Last year, the Kelley family moved from their Brentwood estate, on the market for a mind-boggling $63.5million, to Palo Alto, California, south of San Francisco, and have remained resolutely private.
Luckily, her fans will able to see her again next year, when she appears in Chasing Montana, written for her by her husband, which is in pre-poduction, and she will appear with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in A Prairie Home Companion, based on the beloved US radio series by Garrison Keillor.
Who knows, the roles may restore her to Hollywood’s red carpet. And if they do, we know who’ll be dressing her.
PHOTO: MARIO TESTINO FOR GIORGIO ARMANI.