Armani in Venice on career, DNA, colleagues and his restless energy
Giorgio Armani, who staged a gala show and party 'One Night Only' event in Venice this weekend, found time for this rare and frank interview with FashionNetwork.com.
Remarkably, Armani celebrated 89 years in July, yet is still imbued with the restless energy of a professional athlete one quarter his age.
Though frail his mind and temperament are as clear and steely as ever. Exceptionally, he agreed to this rare interview with FashionNetwork.com, looking back on his remarkable career, considering his DNA and offering his precise opinion on his fellow designers.
A legendarily hard worker, the morning after the show Giorgio was off working on his next two collections – Giorgio Armani and Emporio – to be show in two weeks’ time in Milan. The sun never seems to set on this unique creator.
FashionNetwork.com: Why have you chosen Venice for latest One Night Only?
Giorgio Armani: The cities I choose for my One Night Only events are always special to me. It is important that they have very distinctive characters, and that they are global cities that chime with the global nature of my outlook. Venice certainly fulfils these criteria and is furthermore appealing to me because it is such an iconic Italian destination. I also associate Venice with film, because of the film festival there, and this One Night Only will take place during the 80th edition of the Venice International Film Festival, which creates the perfect backdrop.
FN: What does Venice mean to you?
GA: What it means to most people I expect – extraordinary atmosphere, history, romance and, of course, beauty. Venice is incredibly beautiful, everywhere you look captivates. That is why it is so often the chosen city of romantics.
FN: When was the first time you came to Venice, and why?
GA: It’s perhaps strange, but I can’t really recall the very first time. It is as if I have always known Venice, which is probably a result of all the films and paintings in which it features. But an occasion I do remember is when in 1990 I came to the film festival to stage the world premiere of Made in Milan, the documentary about my work that Martin Scorsese made. That was quite an event, and we held a great party to celebrate at Ca’ Leone on Giudecca.
FN: Define the DNA of Giorgio Armani?
GA: I design by a process of subtraction, stripping back until I am left with the essential. And the DNA of my brand aesthetic reflects this vision which is based on elegance, sophistication and a timeless style.
FN: Define the Armani man and woman?
GA: They are people who are looking for timeless style rather than passing trends. People who understand that clothing is there to enhance the character, not to overwhelm or disguise it. People who aspire to looking elegantly dressed rather than ostentatious. People who are confident in themselves and derive confidence too from the sophistication of my aesthetic.
FN: You had a remarkable June and July: with stupendous Emporio and Giorgio Armani shows in Milan, and Privé in Paris. Where do you still find the energy to be so productive?
GA: I have always possessed a restless energy. I am a perfectionist and endlessly inquisitive. This means I push myself constantly to try new things, break new boundaries, to see what I can achieve. My work is my passion, and I never tire of the pleasure it brings me.
FN: A half century after opening your first design office with Sergio Galeotti at 37 Corso Venezia, how do you keep finding fresh inspiration?
GA: Inspiration is there if you are open to see it. It comes from my imagination, from my memories, from my observations of people and from research online and in books. I find it everywhere – in films I watch, in conversations I have and in the travels I make. The world is my inspiration. It always has been, and it never ceases to surprise and delight.
FN: You have been showing on international runways for 48 years. If you have to pick your three or four favorite collections, what would they be?
GD: This is a hard task, but let’s try: my collections of 1979 that formed the basis of Richard Gere’s wardrobe in American Gigolo – the look in the film that brought Armani to the world; the women’s Autumn/Winter 1981 collection, inspired by Utamaro, the Japanese painter, which featured sparkling corsets and armour-like forms that recalled the outfits of the samurai and Japanese warriors, and owed a debt to Kagemusha, Akira Kurosawa's 1980 film. More recently, my women’s Autumn/Winter 2022 collection, with references to Art Déco that has significantly influenced my design throughout my career. My couture collections generally, like the one that I presented in January, inspired by the fancy of a Venetian ball where dresses sparkle and seem to dance. And actually, that was the collection that spawned the idea of an event in Venice.
FN: Armani the brand, and Armani the person, has always had a uniquely close relationships with great actresses and actors, with Hollywood and cinema in general. Why do you think that is?
FN: I’ve already mentioned American Gigolo, which marked a turning point in my fortunes. It was the moment I discovered the power of the cinema to express my design vision to a global audience. From that point on I made sure I was open to partnerships with films – I believe I have worked on the wardrobes of over 250 to date – and through this, many actors and directors discovered my collections. What they tell me is that they feel confident in my clothes – confident that they look good. This has been significant, in particular, on the red carpet. I believe that Armani is regarded as the label that will make you look good at a premiere.
FN: You created your own house from scratch. What advice would you give a young designer starting out?
GA: Follow your vision. With passion and single-mindedness. Be true to yourself. If you have something to say creatively, then make sure you say it, regardless of what is going on around you. That way you won’t get lost. And be prepared to work very, very hard. Talent will get you so far. But serious application is the key to success. No creative person ever found success other than through hard work.
FN: You came from a relatively modest family in Piacenza, with nothing to do with fashion. When and how did you first realize, you were destined to spend your career in fashion?
GA: It took a while. I had a false start when I thought medicine would be my career. Then, completely by luck, I was hired by the woman in charge of communications at La Rinascente, Milan’s premier department store, where I worked as a merchandiser at the store, and it was then that I realised I had an eye. Soon, I had a position with the buyers, and that led me to be hired by Nino Cerruti to work for him as a designer. That was it. Especially when he charged me with trying to find ways of making tailoring less constrictive and more relaxed. In many ways that has been my life’s work – making sartorially-based clothing comfortable and modern.
FN: You have placed a lot of emphasis in recent years on Armani Casa and Hotels and on building an important series of hotels, skyscrapers and dual use buildings. Why was this project so important to you?
GA: From very early on, I had this dream of what could be described as an Armani lifestyle. I was a designer of clothes and accessories, but I was operating to achieve a particular aesthetic vision, and even at the start I saw how this vision, this philosophy of design, could be applied to other areas. Fragrances were a logical step, and beauty products. But there could be more. Interior decoration beckoned, too, and this led to ideas of how to apply my Armani/Casa interiors designs to spaces. It only required a small leap of the imagination to arrive at the concept of Armani residences and hotels. Today, there are also Armani restaurants and cafés. And nightclubs. And flowers and chocolates.
FN: Who are the other designers – at least five please - that you respect and admire? And why?
GA: Coco Chanel was a great talent, and her exploration of comfort and simplicity in clothing has been a source of inspiration for me. This concept extends to my menswear too. The body is both the point of departure and the point of arrival for everything I do. And then of course, Nino Cerruti, who gave me confidence and taught me the basics of my work. It was from him that I learned the quest for a new classic style: soft and anything but rigid. To me, he was an example of coherent style and intuition. And Jean Paul Gaultier, fashion’s enfant terrible, who managed like no one else to retain his enthusiasm and innocence, but also the ability to break rules and barriers using only imagination. I also appreciate the work of Dries Van Noten, Hedi Slimane and Giambattista Valli. And I like Paul Smith for his stubborn independent spirit. In general, anyone doing his or her own thing at his or her own pace, not playing by the rulebook, too, is an attitude I admire.
FN: In 100 years’ time from now, how would you like Armani to be viewed?
GA: As I hope it is today: as a collection that serves the wearer; one that makes people look their best while also being comfortable and relaxed. A wardrobe that is effortlessly elegant and the embodiment of great quality, not just in terms of manufacture, but also in terms of design. And therefore, one that can be worn with confidence for years, making it a genuine luxury. In a century from now, I would also hope that Armani will be completely sustainable – in terms of product and as a company. And here I should add that I will be offsetting all the residual greenhouse gas emissions relating to the upcoming One Night Only through the support of environmental projects focused on restoring the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Venetian Lagoon, and I will also be making a donation to a non-profit organisation that is engaged in research to help protect the Lagoon.
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