From The Issue: We Speak To Giorgio Armani All About Emporio
Armani, Armani, ah-ah-Armani! What other word whispers luxury like it? Because, for more than four decades, Giorgio Armani – Mr Armani to you – has been the reigning monarch of Italian fashion, offering the world perfection right down to the very last stitch. So much so that the word “classic” sits as comfortably next to his name as a pair of Emporio pants do to the crotch.
But to file the designer as “classic” might be to slightly miss the point. It’s easy to reduce his legacy to a single word. Legendary. Timeless. Measured. So, too, his clothing. Restrained. Consistent. Elegant. Greige. Words that suggest a man and brand weighted with seriousness. But this is far from the truth – at 82 years old, the spry Mr Armani is far more complex than that. You don’t amass a $6 billion (or thereabouts) fortune without raising a few eyebrows.
Because there’s another side to Mr Armani, far away from his controlled outer visage. He’s a fashion revolutionary. Not that he shouts about it – instead, it’s spoken through his relentless pursuit of perfecting the way that people dress. He did, after all, liberate women from the confines of strict, traditional tailoring, and for men, he proposed masculinity that blurred the edges – slouchy, supple, sexy. Recall, for a moment, Richard Gere in American Gigolo, which Armani outfitted – his unstructured suit, that perfect camel trench, loosely tied, or those jeans, bulging in all the right places.
And while it was through the eponymous mainline brand that these ideas first came about, it’s been at its younger brother, Emporio Armani, that the designer has pushed them the furthest. This is a brand that accompanied its SS97 show with a David LaChapelle-shot film featuring Amanda Lepore riding a giant lipstick and a starring role for Ryan Phillippe’s arse in a pair of Emporio Jeans. Not exactly the first thing to come to mind when you think of the Italian megabrand.
There’s a great bit of old printed matter, the short-lived Emporio Armani magazine, launched in 1989 and helmed by his sister Rosanna Armani. It now reads a bit like a manifesto for the line. Within its pages is the work from an incredible roster of talent – Aldo Fallai, Peter Lindbergh, Norman Watson, Jacques Olivar and Enrique Badulescu, who imagine in their photographs a masculinity that can be fluid and soft, but also hard, muscled and sexy. It was, at the time, a potent expression of modernity.
I speak to Mr Armani over email – he’s in Milan, having just a month or so before, presented his women’s Emporio collection in Paris. It was the first time he’d shown outside Milan and, since 2000, somewhere other than the giant Teatro, which has been the brand’s headquarters since then. The flagship store in the Saint Germain district had just been lavishly redone, so it seemed a fitting time to celebrate. But more than that, Mr Armani had a bit of a score to settle with the city. Back in 1998, in a story that is now an oft-told piece of fashion folklore, he was due to do the same thing – move the show to Paris and celebrate the opening of that same store. It was cancelled just an hour before, even as the 1,200-strong guest list was en route to the two huge tents erected outside the store. The French police had deemed it a safety hazard and shut the whole thing down. There have since been whispers that it was actually a more dramatic tale of a French fashion industry pitting themselves against perhaps the greatest symbol of their Italian competitors. Either way, it ended up being the most expensive cancelled catwalk show ever, according to the Guinness World Records.
Via email, he is measured about his return almost two decades later. “It was very moving to achieve a dream that had been ‘on hold’ since 1998, when the runway show failed to go ahead,” he tells me. And he hasn’t lost any respect for the city. “When it comes to fashion, Paris is one of the first names that springs to mind. The city itself is a highly prestigious showcase.”
I ask him how he would describe the Emporio line – it feels less simple to define than other diffusion lines, where mainline brands are repackaged for the masses. Emporio Armani is more like another facet of the same man, providing clothing for the parts of life not covered by the main collection, thus reaching a new group of consumers. And there’s a certain energy to it. As he says, “Emporio Armani is designed for men and women who live in the big cities, and who want something dynamic, fresh and strong.”
The city is something he references a lot over the course of our interview. Urban spaces (or in his words, the “metropolis”) were the inspiration behind his latest men’s collection, SS17, and the way in which within those spaces people’s lives crisscross.
His own city, Milan, where he lives and works, has long been synonymous with his work. In Made in Milan, the Martin Scorsese short documentary of 1990, the city is as much a character as Mr Armani himself, shown in lingering, brooding long shots. “Here, fashion is not just a show – it’s real, it’s designed for real people,” he says. “I think Milan Fashion Week is one of the most important, in terms of variety, concreteness and the richness of all that is on offer. It’s an important showcase.”
But cities also mean crowds, and he has never been a designer keen for his man to sink away into one of those. Instead, his city is reimagined as a place of multiplicity. The SS17 men’s collection reflected all those different needs of city living – men who have just as much want for elegant suiting in rich, subtly embellished navy as they do for relaxed chambray trousers, the perfect bomber jacket or flashy sportswear, printed with a giant reproduction of the Emporio eagle. There was even an elastic harness for those inclined to partake in potentially more racy activities.
Because this is what Mr Armani sees as the future: a perfect world where Emporio Armani can provide a collection that covers all elements of life. It’s a challenge he poses himself season after season. What is the modern man’s wardrobe missing? And what’s already there but needs improving? At Armani, the future is not some distant concept – it is merely tomorrow and the day after that. “I am interested in the things that I will do tomorrow, which I work towards incessantly,” he says. And at the heart of his work: the relentless pursuit of perfection.
And perfection, for SS17, meant individuality. He said backstage that he detests when everybody looks the same, so at the centre of the collection was a symbol – a swirling, graphic fingerprint, digitally placed onto T-shirt-style tops. It spoke of a collection about identity. Over the course of the almost 100-look show, Mr Armani made his claim – here’s what that man would wear for dinner, to the gym, on his holidays.
The thread that linked it all together was the meeting of the ease of sportswear with the elegance that the brand has long been synonymous with. “It’s young, fresh and dynamic,” he says. “But I added personality with exotic decorations and embroidery, for clothes that are distinctive but never extravagant. This collection is characterised by a love of innovation…seeking out modern solutions, with an emphasis on fashion and a unique DNA.”
Identity seemed an interesting starting point. Over 40 years since the birth of his fashion empire, Mr Armani has excelled in developing one of the most bankable identities in the business, one that suggests modern luxury to the wide gamut of men and women who wear his clothes, or spritz their bodies with his many perfumes.
Much of this comes from Mr Armani’s own identity as the tanned, toned man of the world (in navy), whose own legendary status makes him the natural figurehead, even at 82. So much so it’s become difficult to untangle the brand’s identity from his own. “My company was born almost by accident, and almost without my noticing it became entwined with my life. I could not imagine separating the two,” he says.
And while his eyes are set squarely on the future, it’s hard to see how the 365-day celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary in 2015 didn’t force the designer to look back at the past and the legacy he has left. The celebrations culminated in a book, playfully covered with a picture of Armani as a baby and simply titled Giorgio Armani. Inside, it collated the meaty elements of his career: photographs, clippings, his own personal writings.
I ask him if it was difficult to pull together the tome, with a career that has spanned so many years and spoken to so many people around the world. “Piecing together your own journey is never an easy job,” he says. “I’ve always said that if I hadn’t gone into fashion, I would have wanted to be a film director. Creating Giorgio Armani was for me a sort of attempt in this direction.”
If you look back over the few interviews he’s done over his career, he often mentions this as a possible parallel career. Maybe it’s because Hollywood is a world he’s been a part of for so many years, his clothes appearing both on the red carpet and in the films themselves.
But film director also seems as close an approximation of what Mr Armani does at the helm of his brand as any other. Do directors not seek out their own visual language, tinker and retune it over time? Are they not businessmen, too, in charge of huge budgets and expecting just as huge returns? Those are all things Mr Armani has done for decades. And now, far from a swan song, he’s ready for another sequel.
Photographer: Benjamin Lennox
Fashion Editor: Garth Spencer
Hair: Lyndell Mansfield
Make-up: Sharon Dowsett
Model: Fernando Cabral