From Issue Two of 10+: Master of the House, Giorgio Armani
A true titan of fashion, Giorgio Armani has been defining the way we dress for nearly five decades. What does it take to build such a powerful global brand and what kind of wisdom has he accumulated along the way? Exclusively for 10+, the great designer shares his unique approach to life.
“I don’t really like to talk about myself. I prefer to do things, to work. It’s no coincidence that my happy place, where I feel the best, is my office: it’s where I achieve my visions, where what’s in my head becomes real and tangible. It’s the most incredible feeling; it fills me with energy and adrenaline every single time. I can’t help it. In my life, I’ve achieved fame and fortune, changing the way men and women dress. I’ve worked with stars and on films; I’ve decorated houses, built hotels and created a brand that, if I do say so myself, everyone knows, like Coca-Cola. With all of this experience under my belt, I deserve to slow down and enjoy what I’ve built, but I just can’t. Resting on my laurels just isn’t for me. It’s true, it’s a very Italian attitude: I should retire and let others take my place. But to do what? Live on permanent holiday in one of my homes? Travel the world? I already do that to a certain extent. But it’s not enough for me. My urge to do real, practical things is undeniable. It is work that led me to where I am today, leaving my hardships and difficulties behind me, and it is through work that my days become truly meaningful. That’s all there is to it.
The idea of not working disheartens me. I still feel the need to prove my worth, to express my vision, and I do this by fully committing myself, as if it were my very first day on the job. At times I stop and wonder: to whom do I still have to prove something? To myself mainly, I would say. Of course, I care about others’ opinions, but my harshest critic is Mr Giorgio Armani. I don’t fear critics, because I’m the first one to be hard on myself. I’m convinced that satisfaction is the end-all. And perhaps this continuous quest for perfection is the reason behind my lasting success, together with an innate pragmatism that drove my desire to dress men and women in real clothes suited to real life. For me, success is the desire to remain relevant, which is no easy feat. I’m a harsh and uncompromising workaholic: I’m like this with everyone I know, but above all with myself.
I always believed that creating fashion meant creating clothing, but one must remember that fashion is much more than that. Fashion can be frivolous and unpredictable, but it is always ahead of its time and anticipates change. Fashion is a reflection of society, as well as the first sign of what it will become. That’s precisely why it excites me. I wish I could have invented the Coco Chanel cardigan, because it created a new standard of dressing, promoting comfort and simplicity as the maximum expression of elegance. But I can say I’m satisfied with having reinvented a jacket into something both soft and comfortable, accompanying women during a journey of emancipation that led them to the height of power; the same jacket that provided men with a softer sense of masculinity. This jacket – unstructured, lightweight, but full of presence – is my greatest achievement: a piece that always returns in my work, continuously interpreted in new ways. A piece that everyone recognises as mine. I think it’s a major accomplishment.
I like to be consistent, but that doesn’t mean inflexible; it means being capable of cultivating your own value in a way that it evolves with the times.
That is why certain themes and motifs recur in my work. Blue, for example: the colour that best represents me; deep as the sea, high as the sky. A colour I choose both for myself and for my collections. Even when designing clothing, accessories, and other items each season, I love dressing strictly in blue, almost anonymously, like an athlete of beauty – the white trainers help me rush off here and there. Personally, blue is a pragmatic, no-frills choice. In my fashion, on the other hand, blue is a passe-partout, the summary of a vision made up of sophisticated simplicity. My latest collection – Rhapsody in Blue – was dedicated entirely to the colour, permeated with linear, timeless, velvety elegance. An idea that passes from the masculine to the feminine, without any breaks in continuity. I love discretion; I detest useless ostentation. I adore silence and simplicity; I hate excessiveness and commotion, even metaphorically. For me, blue represents all of this.
I don’t believe in reincarnation, but in the event, I’d like to be reborn as myself, with the knowledge from the very beginning that not everything lasts, and that spending time with those who matter to you is extremely important. I’d like to make up for lost time, go on holidays I never took. Hard work is important, but it’s not everything. Am I contradicting myself? I’m human, not ice cold.
Of course I’m afraid of growing old. Who isn’t? But I’m not obsessed with staying young at all costs: I think that’s an unachievable utopia, a weakness. I don’t condemn cosmetic surgery, but it’s not for me: I wear the signs of my life with pride. In any case, youth is not a question of age, it’s mental. You begin to grow old when you cease to be in line with the times and with what is going on around you. I, on the other hand, built my empire on the observation of reality: right from the very start, I rejected the notion of the extravagant, out-of-date designer sitting in his ivory tower creating magnificent clothing for pretty statuettes. I wanted to dress real men and women, and real young people when I conceived Emporio. I wanted to see them all on the street, not just on the glossy pages of magazines or in the illusive world of television; I wanted my clothing to bring them new awareness of their worth; I wanted it to suit the changing roles of a society in a constant rush. I think I was successful, but I feel increasingly alone in this. I’m a strong advocate for elegance in a world I see as increasingly vulgar, lacking in taste, and without dignity. Today there are no longer roles or opportunities. Everything is allowed, but when everything is allowed, it’s like nothing is worth anything at all. Women dress like girls at every age. Men do as well. That’s fine, but you need to be careful.
I do this job out of passion – an absolute, burning, visceral passion. I do it with enthusiasm, commitment and dedication. I never thought that I would achieve such world fame by being a designer. Of course, fame is not what pushed me towards this arduous path. It wasn’t money either – it can’t buy elegance.
It’s not easy to imagine the future without me, but it is a thought I can no longer avoid or push away: for the people who work with me and for whom I feel responsible, and for what I’ve built. I’m a control freak. I would like to give everyone I see a makeover, and I have the last word on everything: could I ever really disregard the future of Giorgio Armani the business? I’d be foolish to do that. However, you can rest assured that I will be here monitoring everything, directing everything, getting angry if something is done poorly and rejoicing over success until I can no longer. Is my stubbornness really to blame? I don’t think so. In the end, it is my name on this empire, which produces a thousand different things, and over the years I’ve learnt that I’m the best judge.
I say this as a matter of fact, not as some dictatorial rant. In the company, I’d like to be remembered as a man, and a boss, with a vision. Outside the company, I’d like to be remembered as a model of commitment.”
Photograph by Maria Ziegelböck.
10+ Issue 2, EVERYONE, VOCAL, TOGETHER is available to order HERE.