Giorgio Armani shares why he is so proud to be Italian, how he believes the world will change after the global pandemic and why staying true to his DNA and values is the secret to his success
He is one of the most successful designers in the world. His name and brand are recognised in every corner of the globe, and the Italian born businessman has successfully diversified his company in ways, that no other brand has done. From Haute Couture to Ready-to-wear, to accessories, to hotels, restaurants, fragrances – and the list goes on. But as his global expansion continues, Giorgio Armani remains very loyal to his roots. His brand has a very clear DNA of elegance and he strives to ensure it is kept this way.
Armani was born in the northern Italian town of Piacenza. While at school he aspired to have a career in medicine and found himself working at a Military Hospital while in the army as a young man. But eventually, he decided that this wasn’t the career path for him. In 1957, he landed a job as a window dresser in one of Milan’s department stores before starting to create men’s clothes when he realised his skill and passion for design. Armani worked for a number of fashion houses over the next decade before deciding to launch his own label in 1975.
Giorgio Armani’s first men’s and women’s collection launched in 1976. By 1979 Armani was producing clothes to be sent to the United States and this started the real growth of his company. With an innate flair for innovation, Armani saw the opportunity to expand his company. In the early 1980s, the company signed an important agreement with L’Oréal to create perfumes.
Always ahead of the game, Armani felt that he had to make use of new and unconventional advertising methods. These included television spots and enormous street ads, together with a house magazine that was sent out by mail to consumers. Armani also felt that a relationship with the cinema was essential, both for promotional reasons and for the stimulus to creativity. He has designed the costumes for over 100 Hollywood movies and dressed the world’s most important celebrities. The expansion of Armani’s enterprise continued throughout the eighties with new markets and new lines while always remaining true to his values. Giorgio Armani has never been afraid to speak his mind. He has a clear vision and idea of how his line and the fashion industry should be. He never veers away from his focus and his business mind continues to fuel every aspect of the Giorgio Armani Corporation. Just last year, the designer was honoured with the Outstanding Achievement accolade at the British Fashion Awards as a celebration of his work and an acknowledgement to his dedication to the fashion industry.
This year, Giorgio Armani had planned to travel to Dubai to present his 2020 Cruise show, in line with the 10th anniversary of the Armani Hotel Dubai. Sadly due to the outbreak of COVID-19, this was postponed until later in the year. Armani has been very dedicated to assisting in the fight against coronavirus, donating a huge amount of money to local hospitals. In this exclusive interview, we discover more behind what Italy means to him and take a look at the plans for the exciting future ahead.
What does Italy mean to you and how would you describe it through your eyes?
Italy is my home and my mother country. I believe it is a beautiful, richly cultural, fascinating place full of passion and emotion and I am genuinely proud of being an Italian.
We have seen the generous donation you gave your country in such hard times and the heart-warming words you’ve dedicated to Italy and Milan in specific and this kind of initiatives reflect a lot of values in a person. Tell us more about the values that define the Giorgio Armani culture and the values you live by as a person.
They are simply human values. I believe that we are all connected by our humanity, which is why when this crisis started to unravel, I simply could not stand by and do nothing. I am in a position to help and so I feel it is my duty as an Italian and as a human being to do so. This action does relate to the values of Armani too – as I have always thought of what I do as something that serves the customer. Fashion for me is about making beautiful and well-made items for real people who will wear them in their lives and feel that they contribute positively to how they feel about themselves. This is very different from the idea of fashion for fashion’s sake. It is about connecting with reality.
Italy has suffered greatly throughout the global pandemic we are currently experiencing – when all of this is over what do you expect to see from the recovery of this crisis?
I hope that fashion reviews its priorities and learns from this experience. I have been very vocal – well before the current situation – about how I feel that there is a need to slow down, to show fewer products and to return to a position of taking into consideration the real needs and desires of customers. Maybe this idea will begin to take hold more now. I hope too that people will consume in a more thoughtful and considered way – focusing on things that are well made and have longevity, and turn away from the hectic cycle of fast fashion. This is also a much more sustainable way of shopping, which is less damaging to the environment. After the current crisis, I think we are all going to be more attuned to the wonders of the natural world, as we have been denied access to these in an unprecedented way; because of this, I expect we will value them more and seek to preserve and protect them more vigorously.
They say in every crisis there is always an opportunity – what is something positive that you think will come out of this situation?
It is hard to see anything positive about the situation currently as people are suffering. However, we have learnt something here in Italy for sure: Italians seem to be quite chaotic and even unruly. But it seems to me that we actually give our best in difficult times. This is when our innate inventiveness and creativity shines through. And we show how we are capable of finding a very rare unity and focus. In this most difficult of moments, I am seeing my countrymen reacting in a very responsible way. I hope we will continue to behave like this when the situation becomes more normal.
When all of this is over will you be changing any of the strategies of the brand and has it had an impact on how you will move forward?
I am of course thinking about how we should respond in our thinking, but to be honest, I feel that my lifelong strategy of trying to make clothes that have eternal style, and that is well-made and functional, is well suited to the future. We all need to recognise that things that have longevity – not only because they are well constructed, but also because they are designed to last (from an aesthetic perspective as well as a manufacturing point of view) – are better purchases. This is also a good strategy to promote sustainability, which is something I have been increasingly focused on. Sustainability has now been thrown into relief, through the crisis, as we are all being forced to consider our future more closely.
Do you think it will impact the buying behaviour of customers?
As I said, I hope it will. I hope they will become more and more discerning in how they consume, and so consume better things in a better way.
Dubai was looking forward to your visit to show your cruise collection and with the current situation, all was rescheduled till the second part of the year, tell us why did you choose Dubai to be your runway?
Dubai is an extraordinary place, symbolising modernity, and looking to the future. It is a true city of the 21st century. As a designer and a human being, I am resolutely always focused on the future, so it seemed to me to be a perfect location in which to present a new collection. The event was also planned to celebrate the reopening of the Giorgio Armani boutique in the Dubai Mall and ten years since the inauguration of the Armani Hotel – on the occasion of Expo 2020.
The fashion industry has grown enormously in the last years. Many designers and names have multiplied remarkably. What should a designer do to sustain his brand desirability?
I have to create beauty that resonates with my customer in a way that is relevant to their lives. I have a very particular personal aesthetic, which is based on sophistication, elegance and comfort, and over the years I have discovered that this is something that many people all over the world – regardless of geography or culture – can relate to and desire. This is the secret to my longevity as a designer; my clarity of vision is very simple to understand, and as I don’t follow transient, passing trends, my customers know they are in good hands. You sustain desirability by having a genuine, authentic point of view. That is what people respond to.
Let’s talk about the SS20 collections, what was your inspiration for Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani? Also, can you take us through the beautiful Armani Privé couture collection that we saw in Paris earlier this year?
The Giorgio Armani collection was inspired by the legend of the nymph Echo, of whom all that remained was her immaterial voice. I saw this as a metaphor for a type of feminine, imperceptible lightness of touch. I also wanted a connection with nature. The collection embodies this idea of the immaterial and the natural through the use of transparent and lightweight fabrics, and overlapping floral prints. Fluid silhouettes and a natural palette running from earthy browns to liquid blue and the lightest of pinks play a part too in this work of the imagination. Emporio Armani, by contrast, is more corporeal, a representation of modern femininity, linked to the urban landscape through the use of crystals, sequins and metal strands that suggest the way light plays throughout the metropolis. My Armani Privé couture collection looked to ikat, the dying technique that takes its name from the Malay word “mengikat”, which means to bind or to tie. I like to play with visual motifs from other cultures and with conceptual geometries. Here I used the manual skill of couture to create shining, chromatic, decorative pieces, evoking sensuality through the use of light and colour: embroideries, prints and inlays bring the flair of ikat into the contemporary world.
I am in love with the LA PRIMA bag, tell us more about how and why you decided to revisit this icon and what makes it unique.
Sometimes you find that a design you created in the past has a new resonance with the time you are living in right now. I designed the La Prima bag back in 1995 and addressed it to the dynamic women of the day, the ones who opted for the sharper Armani looks with that restrained and relaxed softness that laid claim to a new idea of elegance. The concept was to interpret this androgynous femininity in bags too, bags that were practical and also fun.
It seemed to me last year that the same ideas were relevant again – about the line between masculine and feminine, the relationship between form and function, the need to bridge day and night in busy lifestyles where the demarcation between work and leisure is shifting all the time. So I decided to bring back La Prima, which takes its inspiration from the design and details of my jackets, such as the pleats at the corners and the rounded cuts. But today, I would reintroduce it in a fusion of past and present. I would create a select and varied group of new models, made using the new manufacturing techniques available to us in the 21st century, combined with careful hand-crafting and tailored stitching of millimetric precision. The new La Prima is thus a bag that now truly tells the story of the evolution of the craftsmanship of Italian manufacturing over the past quarter of a century. It may be called “The First” (“La Prima”), but it is a new chapter in an ongoing story.
Sustainability, a topic that was trending heavily lately. We know that you support it for sure on all levels. What do you think the impact post-COVID-19 will be on companies and manufacturers when it comes to their sustainable offerings?
I have been struck by the recent evidence that shows a reduction in pollution over cities of the world – in places like China, but also here in Milan. Then when I look at the clean waters in Venice, the dolphins swimming closer to ports in Pisa… these are indications of how the natural world can flourish when man’s impact on it is reduced. Even just for a few weeks or months. These are things that we need to keep in mind when this emergency is over. As I said, we all need to slow down a little and reconnect with the world we live in.
The “Made in Italy” element is very important to many, why do you think there is such a fascination with this concept globally?
It is about authenticity. Italy has a rich culture in the arts, music, sport, food, craftsmanship and of course, fashion. This is all instilled into the idea of Italy. So when you buy something that is made in Italy, you invest in our country’s skill and expertise in design and manufacturing, of course, but you also experience our passion and love of culture. That is a very powerful thing with great appeal.
You’ve always been empowering women and giving them freedom through your fashion and the way you’re designing for them. Who is your Armani woman?
She is elegant and confident. She knows her worth. She dresses in a sophisticated way. She enjoys the freedom to express her character through how she behaves and of course, through what she wears.
Milan has a special place in your heart; tell us about some moments that you still recall when you opened your first store on Via Sant’Andrea in Milan and what were your biggest challenges when you started?
Milan has been my hometown ever since I moved here as a young man. I love this city and when I first opened a store here it felt like a big step, but also like a homecoming. I wanted to show the people of Milan my vision and from there, I built the confidence to show it to the people of the world. When I first started, there were many challenges– would anyone like what I was doing? Would anyone buy my clothes – and by so doing, buy into my vision? Luckily they did.
With all your products, you have created a lifestyle way beyond just clothing. You’ve created a universe and a powerful and recognizable DNA. What do you think are the fundamentals of success?
I firmly believe that you have to have a vision. And you have to have confidence in that vision and stick to it. Of course, you need to evolve and ensure your approach suits the times, but essentially you should make sure that you follow your own path. If you get side-tracked by criticism or being seduced by passing trends, if you spend your time overly concerned with what other people are doing, then you run the risk of losing your way and losing your identity. Establish and develop your own DNA. And then continue to be true to it.
Where in Italy do you like to go to relax? And if you could visit another time and place to immerse yourself in its style and culture, when and where would it be?
I am very fortunate in that I have a holiday home on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, which is an extremely wild and elemental place. It is in the Mediterranean Sea, 100 kilometres off the coast of Sicily, and I love to go there to get away from modern life and recharge. I also have a beautiful boat that I like to spend time on, and more often than not, I use it to cruise around the Italian coast. If I could time travel it would be back to Asia in the ‘20s and ‘30s. I am fascinated by the culture of Eastern Art Deco and would be intrigued to experience that era first hand. Having visited modern Shanghai and Beijing and Tokyo, it would be extraordinary to be able to compare those cities with their ancestral versions.
Can you share with us any Italian traditions that you to this day continue with your family and friends?
I like to have an aperitivo with friends in the early evening when I have the opportunity to. And I like to celebrate occasions like Christmas with traditional Italian food, like panettone – we actually make rather a fine one in the Armani/Dolci collection! The dove-shaped colomba di Pasqua, which is a type of panettone made with candied orange peel and almonds, is a traditional Easter cake, and I enjoy this at this time of year. There is an Armani/Dolce version of this too.
If there was one thing you would like to change in yourself what would it be?
I would love to go back to when I first started my label and have all the challenges ahead of me. Of course, there are still challenges, and I am still motivated and pushing myself every day. But that feeling of a whole world of possibilities, and only yourself to make it happen. That was very special.
Do you have any regrets?
I used to say that my only regret was not spending enough time with friends and family on account of my tendency to be a workaholic perfectionist. Now I have made my peace with that idea – I know myself well enough to understand that work is what I am passionate about. It is what fulfils me and drives me. So no; no regrets.
What’s your favourite Italian phrase or motto you live by?
It’s actually something my mother said to me when I was a kid. She said that if you want to create beauty, only do what is necessary and no more.
To what do you say no?
What would you like to achieve that you feel you haven’t done yet?
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a film director. I love movies – I have done ever since I was a child and discovered American Westerns at the cinema in Milan, which I would travel in to visit from my home in Piacenza. Now I have worked on many films, I have seen how the magic is created, and I do like the idea of having a go at directing a movie myself.
How would you describe Italy in one word?