Interview by Filep Motwary
FM: Mr. Armani, this year marks the 40thst anniversary of Emporio Armani. It has been a long, prosperous journey for you. Can you walk me through your personal development that came in parallel to your work development?
GA: When I started Emporio Armani in 1981 it was because I felt the need to address a new type of customer – young in spirit, metropolitan, experimental. This was prompted simply by observing the changes in the culture and seeing a desire among a new sort of demographic for something they could wear and rally around. Since then Emporio Armani has remained true to that initial vision, and as I have grown creatively, I have developed Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani in parallel, reflecting the nuanced changes in the culture, but always staying true to my conviction that there is a place for the metropolitan aesthetic of Emporio to run alongside the more elegant, restrained universe of Giorgio Armani.
FM: How did one help the other and how do you see your achievements today?
GA: It is impossible for me to detach my personal life from my work. They are one and the same. So, what I see, think and believe finds its natural, passionate expression in what I create. I look back on the past 40 years of Emporio Armani and see a type of autobiography written through design. Like a life lived, the period is connected by an over-arching narrative – my story –, but within that there are different chapters occasioned by different events. Looking back, I am immensely proud of Emporio Armani and happy that it still resonates with the very people it was created for.
FM: How difficult it was for you to establish yourself at a time without social media, allow me to say- as someone who was determined to follow his destiny as a fashion designer? Those were times of bravery based on entirely different morals…
GA: I am not sure about morals, but they were indeed different times. Emporio Armani was always a pioneering idea. Indeed, for a designer with my growing reputation for a sophisticated look, it was perceived as a somewhat strange departure. In the beginning, even its inclusive name caused a stir, thought to be too “of the people” for someone considered to be a ‘fashion designer’. I dreamt of a collection that was appropriate for the young people. In this sense I was trying to democratize fashion. It was indeed a time long before social media, which, were I starting Emporio Armani today, would undoubtedly have been my way of getting it in front of those for whom it was intended. Instead, I had to use more conventional means of communication, like the press and advertising. However, even here I decided to innovate. In 1984, the first advertising campaign for the collection saw me take a giant billboard in the center of Milan, on Via Broletto, which has since become an integral part of the city’s urban landscape. And then, in 1988, I launched the Emporio Armani Magazine, which was truly experimental for the time. It ran for 19 issues and created a pulsating, kaleidoscopic universe, made of pictures, stories and words, around the collections.
FM: How have you experienced adapting to your own authority as a designer? Did it take some time for you to feel comfortable creating collections and saying this is the way to do it?
GA: Actually I have always found it very easy to “own” my work. From the very start with Giorgio Armani I had a vision of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. This stems from a very particular aesthetic that I believe in – one of sophistication and elegance and timeless style. This has also been true of my adventure with Emporio Armani. Though different to Giorgio Armani in many ways, there is a consistency that runs through both collections in my belief in simplicity and comfort, and the notion that the wearer, not the outfit, should be the protagonist. I have never had a problem saying that this is what I believe in. This is, I am convinced, a major contributing factor to my continued success. Because if you are certain and confident in what you are creating, then your customer will be confident in it too.
FM: Which is your most important responsibility these days and why?
GA: It is what it has always been – to create great work that brings pleasure to those who wear it, and to sustain a viable business on the back of this that supports the livelihoods of many people. The second of these two aims has never been more of an issue than in the past year when we have all been tested in ways that we could not have previously imagined. Personally I feel – and I have always felt – that I have many responsibilities, and not only towards my clients. I am a pragmatic man and I firmly believe that actions speak louder than words. That is why, over the years, I have undertaken many initiatives to support the disadvantaged. Like the Acqua for Life programme, initiated in 2010, which focuses on delivering universal access to drinking water in water-scarce regions and has helped over 390,000 people living in 20 different countries.
FM: When you launched Emporio Armani (1981) your aim was to embrace youth and to give them an alternative way of dressing! Do you think there’s anything interesting happening on the streets today, in terms of fashion, as it has become so urban?
GA: There’s always a lot happening on the streets. What was different back in 1981 was that street style was something new – Emporio Armani seemed like a disruptive new code, and actually immediately became a social phenomenon. The logo with the eagle – which I designed almost by chance while talking on the phone – became a symbol of belonging, a vehicle to bring people together. I found myself, through Emporio Armani, party to the founding of a local subculture in Milan – the paninari. And yet the brand soon broke free from pre-set categories and became a global phenomenon. Today, the metropolitan look you refer to has, of course, become an established fashion genre, and arguably, especially through the period of COVID-19, the sporty element of this has enjoyed a lot of popularity. As ever, I am looking ahead, to post-COVID, and I can see a return to a desire to dress up, as a way to celebrate the fact that we will be able to go out and socialise again.
FM: Armani has always been a brand linked to elegance and savoir faire. Could you kindly explain this need, this philosophy – I wonder if there is a moment when elegance seems dated?
GA: By definition, elegance is never dated, as it is in essence timeless, I have always aspired to create elegance, as it seems to me to speak of the essentials of beauty and attractiveness. I have never chased passing trends or fads, in the belief that true style is eternal and not subject to the whims of any particular moment. I believe that this philosophy has its roots in advice my mother gave me. She would say: if you wish to create beauty, only do what is necessary, and no more. That is why one of my favourite pieces of advice is that when you are about to leave the house, look in the mirror and ask yourself whether there is anything you can remove from your outfit.
FM: Is it necessary to take risks when making fashion? What was the biggest risk you ever took? What does freedom mean to you as a designer? Is it possible that you are ever in conflict with your own taste?
GA: It is necessary to take risks in life, let alone in fashion! The biggest risk I took in life and in fashion was to set up my own company back in the ‘70s. I had experience working as a designer for other firms, but nothing can prepare you for the responsibility of running your own business. Then I had a very difficult decision to make when my partner, Sergio Galeotti, with whom I had started the company, died prematurely and I was faced with either folding the business or carrying on. Sergio took care of business matters, while I created the collections, and so when he was not there any longer I had to either learn the workings of the company and take on his role as well as my own, or simply give up. I chose to pursue my vision, but it was considered a great risk at the time as I had no experience of running an enterprise. Now, with hindsight, I can say I am glad I did not surrender to circumstances, and the passing years have dulled the sense of jeopardy I felt when I took the plunge to continue with my own label. But when I think back to that moment, I recognise what a very real challenge presented itself. The original decision to start Giorgio Armani was a vote for creative freedom, and I have enjoyed this aspect of my work ever since. This certainly contributed to my determination to keep the company going once Sergio had died, as once you have tasted the pleasures of being able to design freely it is surely very difficult to relinquish that privilege. And no, I am never in conflict with my own taste. What would be the point of that?
FM: Being an Italian, your country’s heritage relies on quality and artisanship. How possible it would be for fashion to restart based entirely on these two qualities. Could it be possible?
GA: Quality and artisanship are a given for me when it comes to any fashion brand that sits in the luxury category. The fact that you ask this question, as if quality and artisanship might somehow be optional for fashion, goes to the root of what is wrong with the fashion industry today. In my opinion, it is an industry that been due for a reckoning for a while now. Concerns like waste, the environment, too much product of poor quality, a marketing-driven approach that can lead to a disconnection with what the consumer really wants… these are now uppermost in my mind. Undoubtedly the major problem with fashion, and the fashion system, over recent years, is that it has followed the path of the mass-market fast-fashion brands, churning out far too much ill-conceived, poor quality product that nobody needs. In other words, products that lack quality and artisanship. I hope that fashion will now review its priorities, learning from this experience.
FM: How does MADE IN ITALY resonate with the present?
GA: The answer is closely related to the former question: Made in Italy is not only a statement of manufacturing provenance, it also represents a powerful idea, or I might say, a powerful ideal. Made in Italy suggests quality and artisanship and the finest approach to design, and a most informed and considered use of the best and most appropriate materials. It suggests production that is steeped in the culture of our country, which has such a rich history in the arts and the art of manufacture. So Made in Italy conjures up an idea that the products that can genuinely lay claim to this label will be among the very best in the world.
FM: Could you please tell me about the starting point of the SS21 collection. What story did you want to tell? What was your moodboard about?
GA: The Spring/Summer 2021 Collection was conceived to not only show great casual clothing, made with Emporio Armani’s typical references to sportswear and use of technical fabrics, but also to reinforce the brand’s function as a “flag” around which to gather like-minded people. This idea, of bringing people together under the banner of the Emporio Armani eagle, seemed to me to be particularly important at a time when we all need to be reminded of the importance of human interaction and the sharing of ideas, particularly creative ideas. My moodboard was full of references to the city and its architecture – the world of Emporio Armani; and in the end, because I was not able to host a show, I created a video entitled Building Dialogues, in which I blended the musical and visual arts with the architecture of my headquarters in Via Bergognone. The architectural context suggests the act of “building”, literally and symbolically, and into this I introduced young characters, models and people from the worlds of acting, dance and music, who, forming groups, suggested the act of creative interaction. The clothes they wear, light both in cut and fabrics, blend perfectly into the metropolitan landscape, and at sunset, the colours, graphics and strong sounds of the city and its roads, suspended bridges and large staircases, become animated by an unusual movement. In the video, as well as models, the Emporio Armani collection is worn by artists from worlds that have always been linked to the brand’s broad community. The whole project was conceived not only to show the collection but also to act as a symbolic gesture in support of those arts —music, dance and acting— that have been particularly affected by the prolonged lockdown period and are still struggling today.
FM: Has the pandemic compelled you to change the ways you work, think and how your company functions? In what ways?
GA: The pandemic has certainly made me think about what I would like to change. So, while I do believe there is a role for showing collections on models to bring designs to life, do so many people still need to fly around the world to see them? The decision I made in February last year to hold my women’s show behind closed doors and live-stream it was, of course, provoked by the COVID-19 situation, but it was an interesting exercise and did demonstrate that there is more than one way to do things effectively. Therefore, one change I believe should happen is that brands should think more carefully about how many shows they stage. I am also committed to putting clothes in store when they match the season outside. No more winter overcoats being offered in July, or linen dresses in January. Let’s get back in step with nature. However, there are many things that remain unchanged in my thinking too. Like the need for clothes to be wearable and relatable for real people; and the importance of quality, in production and design, so that pieces have longevity, not just from the point of view of construction, but also with regard to their aesthetic relevance. In many ways the pandemic has reinforced many of my ideas, even though it has challenged others.
FM: Do you think fashion critique still matters to designers? Are you curious to hear how others observe what you create? The reasons these observations might interest you?
GA: I have never taken note of what the press thinks of my work. Or to be more accurate, I do see what they say, but I don’t alter my trajectory as a result of this – whether it is complimentary or not. The only people whose opinions I value are my customers. They, after all, are the real arbiters of whether I am doing a good job or not.
FM: Your commitment to sustainability is evident through-out all your collections and is part of your brand’s ethos to being a responsible and modern company. Do you think upcycling could become the norm in buying clothing in the future?
GA: I do believe that upcycling and other initiatives to make clothing more sustainable will become more and more prevalent. The future of the planet is, of course, of concern to all of us, and I have believed for some time now that we all need to wake up to this and start to play our parts. For my own, I have been looking at many initiatives, like my sustainable collection for Emporio Armani, launched last year, a part of the Emporio Armani family that offers clothing and accessories made from recycled, regenerated and organic materials, where we aim to use innovative production techniques to help reduce the consumption of energy and water. Each garment is fully traceable too, thanks to the QR code
on its label through which you can find extra detail about it. This Emporio Armani collection is a specific example of my work to promote more environmentally friendly fashion, but generally, we need to look at how we can improve sustainability in how we create and make products, how well we design those products to last (in terms of aesthetics as well as quality), how we run our offices and how we construct and run our stores. As I said before, I believe the methods of fast-fashion have overly influenced the entire industry. The fashion business should operate on a more human scale, promoting creativity and good practise. We need to make less and make better, and the consumer, too, must start to consume more responsibly. Of course, this is about education. So now we must start a process of re-education so that consumers understand that if we are to make things more responsibly, then they too need to consume in a more mindful way. They need to buy less and buy better, choosing to purchase things that are made in a way that minimises environmental impact. It’s a big shift, but, to my mind, an essential one.
FM: Can fashion play its individual expression and liberation role in our changing societies at this stage of COVID or not?
GA: The situation we have found ourselves in has made people crave beautiful things and beauty in general. People do not want to look good any less than they did before the pandemic, because looking good is part of feeling good too. That very human desire is shared by everyone, I believe, and has not changed. So as we are liberated from the restrictions we have been living under, I predict there will be an embracing of fashion and dressing-up as an expression of our desire to be able to go out and see people and socialise. Because when you are seeing people, you are also being seen by them.
FM: Speaking of which, is isolation an impossibility for a designer?
GA: Designers need to be fed with inspiration, of course, and years ago the prospect of isolation would have posed very serious problems in this respect., But today, through the Internet, the whole world is in reach from your desk. Peculiarly, during the pandemic I have lived pretty much as I always do. I am not one who goes out often in the evenings, so I am sure I have not felt constrained in the way that many others have.
FM: We have been desperately exploring or trying to redefine the silhouette for centuries now. Humans have been working on reconstructing the body and proportion through clothing… Why this particular need?
GA: The human body is an endless source of fascination, as can be seen by the way artists have engaged with it for thousands of years. It is our home, literally, and so as a designer the challenge of clothing this in interesting, attractive and comfortable ways is what we are all about. This is in part an aesthetic exercise, as can be seen from a review of fashions through the ages, but also a question of practicality, function and comfort. For me, where style and function intersect is where I like to operate.
FM: Did you always have a perception of the body and the art of dressing it or not? What is your perception of the body after all and how connected are you to it?
GA: n my youth I undertook medical studies, and had I pursued these I may well have ended up becoming a doctor. In the event, I realized that this was not for me, and so embarked on a very different path. However, some of that early experience has stayed with me, in that I have always been interested in the human body and how it is constructed. A good fashion designer must have some understanding of anatomy. Though there are those who see things differently, I believe that clothing should always in some respect follow the contours of the body and so enhance what Mother Nature has given us. That is why my creations are essentially made with a minimum of padding and lining. It is not just a matter of providing a relaxed, comfortable experience; it is also about the aesthetics of a natural and fluid form.
FM: Do we seek for a deeper meaning into clothing? Can fashion be didactic? If so, to what level?
GA: I would say that fashion can both reflect the culture and be part of its creation. For example, my decision in the ‘80s to develop women’s tailored clothing that would give them something smart to wear that would be emblematic of the confidence I saw in the women of the time ended up being seen as a type of feminist statement, while I was also credited with creating a wardrobe for the modern working woman. In this respect, I was responding to something that was happening culturally, but also helping to establish it.
FM: Do you think as a designer you need to have an awareness of fashion history? Can everybody be a fashion designer? Are you ever misunderstood as a designer?
GA: There are many questions here! Yes, I believe that as a designer you do need to have awareness of fashion history, in the same way that you need to have awareness of culture in general, so that you can place your ideas in context. But that is not the same as slavishly mining that history for ideas, and constantly recycling what has been done by others before. It is a little like Picasso’s advice: ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’ So always use history as a departure point from which you should aim to create something new. Then, as for whether everyone can be a fashion designer, well, why not? There is a degree of talent to this job, but if you have vision and, most importantly, are willing to work hard, you could succeed. For me, the ability to work really hard, in a really committed and passionate way, is the key to success in any field. It’s one of the reasons I admire athletes so much – for their discipline and tireless dedication to becoming masters of their sports. And as for being misunderstood – it does happen. Many consider me to be a purist, a meticulous designer who delights in taking elements away from initial ideas to achieve a purity of form. Because of this I am often called a minimalist, and though this is true, it can imply a certain lack of imagination and boldness of expression. With the Eccentrico exhibition – a show of dresses and accessories designed – I revealed how with my collections there is a parallel, more fantastical aesthetic at play in my work, an expression of an extravagant vision that appears to transform the very essence of things. This is something that couture especially lends itself to, the perfect canvas on which to show that being different is what sparks creativity. As a designer it is so important to have ideas that are different from the norm, from the conventional – ideas that open up unexpected spaces and new paths for one’s journey.
FM: For a long time, people would think fashion as a place of exclusivity. Should fashion have followership limitations? Who puts these limitations at the end?
GA: Fashion is everywhere – from what clothes you wear to which flowers you like, which restaurants you choose to eat in, where you travel, what films you watch and which car you drive. It is a myth that fashion is confined to clothing and designers. It is about taste and attitude and so it is not exclusive but ubiquitous. If you are talking purely about fashion design, then there will always be an inevitable level of exclusivity to this, determined by the price of these goods. That is one reason why I launched Emporio Armani, to try and bring a collection to younger people, which not only gave them clothes suited to their style – including pieces in denim, used for tailoring as well as jeans, bomber jackets, a sophisticated interpretation of technical materials and inspirations from sportswear – but also to provide these at a price more within their reach.
FM: What does rebellion look like in fashion these days? What does it mean to you as a leading brand in the industry after almost 50 years (est.1975)?
GA: Rebellion can take many forms. I have never been one for unsubtle rebellion, instead I have always believed that challenging accepted ideas can be done in a quiet and determined way. That is what I did when I started to explore the idea of deconstruction in my early years. This was a genuine revolution, as it took on the established ways of making tailoring and changed them. Today, nobody questions the idea that clothing should be comfortable – indeed, the entire recent interest in athleisure is founded on this notion. But back in the ‘80s, the suggestion that you could make a jacket that would feel relaxed and comfortable by stripping out the padding and lining and using lighter-weight fabrics was seen as radical. Rebellion will always be there, and it will always be something that comes with successive generations of young people looking to challenge the older generation. But today there is one aspect of rebellion that does feel new, and it is one I am very happy to endorse and be part of – and that is where sustainability is concerned. I am not that interested in dramatic statements of sartorial rebellion, as I feel I have seen it all before. But where the future of the planet is concerned, I do believe it is a good thing to try and draw people’s attention to the enormous challenge that faces us environmentally.
FM: There is a calculated consistency in your signature and I cannot help but wonder about the balance between refining the general signature of Armani each season and doing something new?
GA: Consistency and newness are not ideas that exist in opposition. This is a misconception that in large part has been driven by the behaviour of fast-fashion brands that rely on making people feel that ideas date quickly and trends are superseded by new ones, so you need to constantly purchase new items to stay in fashion. My belief is that a successful fashion designer has a handwriting that is clear – a personal vision that belongs to them, that everyone can understand. This vision is what he or she pursues, and over time what we see is a body of work that stays true to the vision, but of course, progresses and evolves. If you go to my permanent exhibition and educational space in Milan, the Armani/Silos, and look at the displays of my work, you will see that there are indeed many recurring themes that can be traced back over the years: the use of a neutral and natural palette, experiments with lightweight fabrics, deconstructed silhouettes, and certain favourite styles that I like to revisit like the trouser suit or tuxedo. But you will also see that an Armani trouser suit from the ‘80s – although you could still wear it today – is not the same as one from 2021. I constantly probe and experiment and explore. I am someone who is curious and in my very nature there is the desire to challenge myself and push myself. That is the reason that over the years I have developed not only Armani clothes and accessories, but also fragrances, furniture and furnishings, hotels, even chocolates and flowers! So though the Armani signature is strong, the individual pieces I make season to season reflect a creative development, which may be subtle and nuanced, but is certainly there in the fabrics I choose and the silhouettes I cut.
FM: Could fashion mean a performance from which we witness the countless creation of our identities? What else?
GA: I actually do not see fashion in this way. For me it is a way of expressing the character within. The wearer should look and feel their best in a great outfit, as this will give them immense confidence. And confidence is, of course, a very attractive quality. Thus, good fashion creates a virtuous circle for the person putting it on. I do not believe that fashion’s job is to disguise the wearer (and it should certainly never overwhelm them). Not even on the red carpet, where I indulge my most experimental ideas; here, you will still find me trying to help the wearer shine through. The outfit should never overshadow the wearer. So, though fashion is commonly considered a way to create identity, I want my fashion to amplify the identity that is already there and help present it in its best light.
FM: Mr. Armani, what is perhaps the most important quality a fashion designer can have?
GA: To be a successful fashion designer you need to have a personal vision that you believe in and adhere to. You will constantly be buffeted by other people’s opinions and be encouraged to measure yourself against the work of others. But you must hold true to your own convictions and beliefs, otherwise you will get lost. It is OK for some people not to like what you do; that is normal. You cannot please everyone. So having the courage of your convictions and the confidence in your point of view is crucial. Let those who do not share your aesthetic preferences go elsewhere. Instead, speak to those who understand and appreciate what you create, and form a strong bond with them. In other words, be true to yourself. Always.
THE EMPEROR: 2021 marks 40 years of EMPORIO ARMANI | From Armani’s early fashion iconography—Richard Gere, supple and sleek, in those relaxed suits from American Gigolo to Armani Privé
The Italian master opens his and tells all in Vogue Greece October 2021 issue. Interview by Filep Motwary #photo #annieleibovitz | Read the whole story at www.vogue.gr
Giorgio Armani S.p.A., commonly known as Armani, is an Italian luxury fashion house founded by Giorgio Armani which designs, manufactures, distributes and retails haute couture, ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes, watches, jewelry, accessories, eyewear, cosmetics and home interiors.