Armani on Asian inspirations; European elections; refurbishing his Armani Tower and the joy of silence
Few designers are as linked to cinema as Giorgio Armani, whose wardrobe for Richard Gere back in 1980 helped make American Gigolo the most famous “fashion movie” of all time. However, even if the Golden Age of Hollywood are probably his single greatest inspiration, the other key element has to be Asia, and more particularly Japan.
One year after American Gigolo, Armani staged one of his most bravura shows, an Autumn/Winter 1981 collection, inspired by Kagemusha, The Shadow Warrior, one of the most acclaimed films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
A memory that Armani recalled this weekend, on a triumphant tour of Japan for the 84-year-old designer.
“The film is a great story about a thief who replaces a king who is his doppelganger. But when the king dies, the thief is forced to fight in his place. I was very proud of that collection. But… it didn’t sell very well. I realized that there was an invasion of ideas that were not pure Armani. My job is to please the public – and not try to shock,” said Armani, in what also seemed a defence of his classical tailoring and sophisticated coloring.
Clearly happy to be in Tokyo, Armani waxed lyrical about the “fine eye for good taste” of the Japanese and “the always-present mix of imperial past and molto raffinata (very refined) present.”
While in Japan, Armani staged his first ever cruise runway show and also reopened his main flagship. Naming it the Armani Tower, he radically renovated the 11-story space, adding six different types of marble, and including a series of giant glass inlays featuring great Renaissance frescoes – a radical departure for Armani who historically disdained anything baroque. Curiously enough, their mannerist colors recalled the later work of Kurosawa, from Kagemusha to Ran.
Few designers love their boutiques as much as Giorgio, whose 56-meter landmark building is in Ginza, one of Asia’s most expensive shopping districts, first opened in 2007. Armani barely touched the original outer glass shell, though he did extend the dramatic bamboo motif down to the lower floors; and added a large platinum 'GA' logo. In total, the boutiques ranges over 6,000 square meters including a ground floor devoted to accessories and gifts; second and third floors for the designer’s signature women’s and menswear collections; fourth floor for private fittings; and two top floors for Armani/Ristorante.
Though Italy’s most famous living designer, business has been slow in recent years at Armani. Annual revenues were down 7% to €2.35 billion in 2017, the last year for which they were available. Though the house did enjoy a recent spurt of e-commerce growth last year with turnover of €60 million. Armani is also the peninsula’s best-selling designer when it comes to fragrances – €1.2 billion in retail sales for Armani Beauty in 2018 through its license with L’Oreal. Plus Armani sits on a cash mountain of over €1 billion.
With the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, Armani is very much the doyen of active living designers, even if the legendarily hard-working octogenarian did take a few days off in Japan; visiting the ancient city of Kyoto.
“I went to Kyoto for a little tourism and it was fascinating. The history, the beauty. Yesterday, in Tokyo, there was a handsome man who approached me and said he had been wearing Armani for 30 years. When I took his hand it shook. I was stunned and touched, and then he started crying. Even in Kyoto, when women asked for photos with me, there was this tremor in their hands,” mused Armani on the morning of his show.
Post-show, a huge gang of locals waited patiently for a photo with Armani; along with architect Tada Ando and actors Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kento Yamazaki, Moka Kamishiraishi and Honami Suzuki.
In a busy voyage, Armani received an award from the Japan Department Stores Association inside the Italian Embassy, and in a gentle moment was given a letter of appreciation from students for his support for a UNESCO Association Scholarship, helping children affected by the horrific 2011 Japanese earthquake.
While in Japan, Armani was delighted to note that at the Cannes premiere of the movie of the moment, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the world’s biggest movie star, Leonardo DiCaprio, wore Armani. “That was a nice touch, though Leo has been wearing me for years. Still he looked very elegant. Though the curious thing about red carpet, is that even though you can propose a thousand ideas and stylistic bets, they all just want a classic little tuxedo,” chuckled Armani, who made the Aman Tokyo hotel his base on this jaunt.
In Japan, his choice of show location was also typically Armani – inside one of the country’s most prestigious institutions: the Tokyo National Museum, in Ueno Park. Where the muted colors of the neo-classical colonnade space suited the collection. While the new store, by contrast, contained multiple subtle Japanese and Italian wallpapers in the two basement floors where the Armani Casa department bleeds into the local subway station.
“According to our lease, we have to renovate the space every decade or so, which suited me. But I didn’t want a revolution in Ginza, just a quiet evolution,” said Armani, adding that his favorite thing about Japan “is the silence of the place. In Milan there can be a terrible racket!”
The noisy politics of Italy, and Europe, were also on his mind, in a long weekend of elections to the European parliament.
“I really hope that Europe and Italy can recover our values; the values of love, of beauty; openness and curiosity. And that we burn out this vulgar moment. The world has become violent, where everyone must respond on their telephones, where people practically don’t even say ‘hello.’ I’d like a return to good manners; to a sense of irony and of honesty.”
One hour after his Friday show, Armani had already boarded a private Gulfstream jet to return to Milan, avoiding the arrival of the noisiest of all politicians – Donald Trump, on a four-day trip to be the first foreign leader to meet the new Emperor Naruhito.
So, more than 50 years after he made his first steps in fashion, as a window dresser at Rinascente department store in Milan, did Armani remain optimistic about the future of fashion?
Speaking wistfully, the octogenarian replied: “I remain very curious and not optimistic or pessimistic. Maybe I won’t be here to see all those drastic changes but the future doesn’t worry me.”
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