Exclusive: Mira Duma and Giorgio Armani in conversation
Past, present, patriarch
I t is impossible to talk about fashion — past or present — without mentioning the name Giorgio Armani. A man of significance, he has single-handedly changed the approach to design, tailoring and the technology of fashion itself. So much so, that he is now credited with introducing the modern silhouette into society — clean, loose and dynamic.
Yet forty years ago, when Armani was forty-one-years-old he was still to embark on his eponymous brand. He had however already studied medicine, worked as a window display merchandiser for the Milanese department store La Rinascente, designed menswear for Nino Cerruti and worked as a freelancer for a dozen other Italian brands. It was in 1975 that Sergio Galeotti, persuaded him to open his office in corso Venezia, 37 and then, his own company.
That company — a veritable empire bearing the Giorgio Armani name — celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. "Only by the age of forty do you begin to understand anything. To be able to develop your own way of thinking and perception, you need to have time to experiment," said Armani.
Then, just last week Mr. Armani was seen taking a bow at his Black Velvet show in Moscow, Russia, wearing a black velvet jacket and an immaculate shirt in the same colour as his striking snow-white hair. "Patriarch" and "godfather" were the buzzwords heard repeated by the Muscovite society gathered in the large industrial space, known as the Tesla 4000 — it was a veritable Armani Teatro.
Now, the reigning king of the Italian fashion industry, who rarely agrees to be interviewed by the media, speaks to Buro 24/7's Miroslava Duma...
You began your career as a designer at the age of forty, which nowadays is considered quite late. Did you feel anxious about starting something so new and significant at the time?
As I have often had the occasion to say: I never had a burning passion for fashion, I actually discovered it much later due to a series of coincidences. I had so many ideas, so many passions and curiosities. I was attracted to everything that was connected with photography, performance and with elegance; to everything that was new. I think that I started my career at the right time. I launched my line at a "mature" age, but with a technical background of rather articulated knowledge. This certainly influenced my performance and success, because I knew exactly what I wanted to say and how to say it. It is for this reason that I advise young designers to be patient.
Finding one's own style and tone of voice is crucial, but it requires time.
I heard that you funded the launch of your brand by selling your car. Is this true? It seems rather risky. Do you still take risks?
Yes, it's true. When my partner Sergio Galeotti and I decided to start Giorgio Armani in 1975, we had a great enthusiasm but a small budget. To buy the furniture in the first office on Corso Venezia 37 in Milan I had to sell my white Volkswagen Beetle, a car that I was very fond of. Fortunately, things then went in the right direction, and as soon as I had the chance, I bought it back. Since then, I have often had to accept challenges, but always by carefully considering all of the options and consequences.
Early in your career you worked with Nino Cerruti, and this is when you started to develop an expertise in menswear. Can you please tell us about that period and how your style took shape?
Before turning forty, I gained ten years of experience designing collections for Nino Cerruti and collaborating as a freelancer with various fashion houses. It was around that time that I got into materials and forms, and that's when my career took off. Because I started to quickly develop strong and personal ideas that I then developed by creating my own brand.
How did the idea to deconstruct the classic men's jacket come about?
The starting point was the observation of that, which surrounded me. I only saw men around me who wore rigid jackets that concealed the body, imprisoning them, in a sense. I sought out the exact opposite: comfortable clothes that gave ease of movement, comfort and nonchalance. It was in this manner that, as early as the mid-seventies, I made the first deconstructed jacket, removing its lining and padding. Gradually, I also changed the layout of the buttons and changed its proportions: it was a process that radically transformed this garment. Since then, my jackets have been comfortable, lightweight, and even sensual in their construction.
Is there a field in the fashion industry, or in any other industry, in which you would like to work?
In these forty years of my career, I have created a complete Armani lifestyle that reflects my ideas and was applicable to various fields outside of fashion, from interior design to hotels. Each expansion has always been carefully considered, as it had to be completely in line with my philosophy. It will be the same in the future when considering projects and areas that could be of interest.
You have started an initiative to support young designers. How do you select the participants and what do they need to demonstrate in order to get your attention?
The future of fashion depends on new generations: lending my theatre to emerging designers is an initiative that I hope will help increase their visibility and in turn accelerate business growth. I am pragmatic and do not like paternalism: I preferred this formula to economic aid — a grant, for example, because I think it is more challenging for the designer chosen and, ultimately, more effective in terms of media exposure. We must not forget that the success of a fashion house also depends on this. The designer chosen from one edition to another does not necessarily have to have a stylistic vision similar to mine. I appreciate styles that are different from mine, provided that they are personal and original. Having an idea and moving forward with strength is the real criteria.
Let's talk about womenswear. How has your perception of femininity changed during your career? And in your opinion, what is more important for a modern woman: a well-cut suit or a dress?
The woman of today has definitely changed a lot from when I started. Her priorities have changed: she no longer has to fight to show that she has a value equal to that of men, and has learned to accept the finer and unexpected traits of her personality. She is sure of herself, enough to want to explore and even enjoy a certain eccentricity. The Armani woman has changed over the last forty years, even if her basic features of being strong-willed and conscious are the same, like the unchanged desire to wear clothes that are a completion of herself, and never a disguise.
Your suits used to be a uniform for working women all over the world. What do you think of the idea of clothing as a uniform today?
In the seventies and eighties women decidedly faced certain areas of work for the first time, showing themselves as equal or possibly superior to men. They needed clothes that represented them adequately in the competition with the stronger sex. This is where the idea of the power suit came from. Today those achievements are ascertained, and women have also agreed to show their softer, feminine side, without making themselves dolls. Today's wardrobe has become more fluid and less prescriptive. I don't think that clothing should be worn as a set uniform: naturalness always wins.
What do you think of an "extremely basic" wardrobe? Is it represented by the "New Normal" in your clothing line? Such an approach urges us to buy less and to think more carefully about adding more items to our wardrobes.
With the "New Normal" I started from totally different considerations. It seemed to me that fashion lately has forgotten the everyday needs of working women who wish to dress with great care, without appearing like a fashion victim. I instead wanted to offer the essence of my work: classic but with creativity, modern. And I wanted these concepts to be obvious, starting from the name. So, "normal" as a precise aesthetic code on the basis of which to offer garments that maintain the values of elegance and dignity, and "new" because the garments are also updated. I do not believe that this is in any way "anti-consumeristic", because, like all collections, even New Normal is updated every season.
Armani has been at the forefront of the Italian fashion since the late 1970s. How have your aesthetics and your views changed since then?
My idea of style and my aesthetics are the same as when I started forty years ago: they express a deep appreciation for all that is simple and straightforward. Of course, over the years this has been combined with the desire to always keep myself in line with the times, through a careful and constant observation of reality. For the future, the goal is therefore to keep the brand modern through preserving its essential features: naturalness, elegance, linearity and dignity.
You have been attributed with saying the following: "As long as I am alive, I'll be here," and it has been said that you will never sell your company. But there have been rumours that you might be looking for a successor. Can you provide any comment on this?
In these years, I have been surrounded by skilled collaborators; people whom I trained. So I can therefore assure you that everything is ready for my team, who will take over on their own, at the right time. But at the moment, I have no intention of stopping.
If you could go back in time, is there anything that you would like to change? Do you have any regrets?
Regret is a pointless feeling that hurts. Reflecting on past behaviour, however, helps to change it. Now I think about paying more attention to my private life. Which means my family, friends and people who interest me. However, I would re-do everything that I have done.