Giorgio Armani celebrates 40 years in fashion
We caught up with the designer who made greige a thing
What do Richard Gere’s relaxed suit in American Gigolo (1980), Cate Blanchett’s light-as-air nude gown at the 2014 Oscars and Lady Gaga’s sparkly orbital dress at the 2010 Grammys have in common? Grace, timelessness and the Giorgio Armani touch.
Master of greige, soft power and precise tailoring, and quite literally a one-man industry; at 81 he is still at the helm of all his brands (from couture to hotels), and business is booming (2014 racked up more than € 2 billion in earning). He’s a stickler for perfection and refuses to abide by trends, instead creating an unwavering philosophy of simple elegance. It’s hard to believe that Armani fell into fashion almost by accident; after a stint in the armed forces, he became a window dresser and took his time there to sharpen his eye for design. With patience, clear vision and steadfast belief, he transformed into that rare thing: a living legend. As he celebrates his 40th year in the business, he talks to ELLE about cinema, gender-neutrality and ageing with elegance.
ELLE: What is your first memory of the world of fashion?
Giorgio Armani: “I remember my enthusiasm and the conviction that I had something of my own to say. When I set out on my adventure in fashion, I didn’t really have any expectations: I was surprised by my instant success, which convinced me that my intuition was right. I still have the same enthusiasm today — it’s my strong point.”
ELLE: You began your career at the age of 40. Would you have liked to have started earlier?
GA: “I think it was the right time for me. I started launching my line at a mature age, with quite a technical background. This definitely had an impact on my success, because I knew exactly what I wanted to say. It’s important to have your own style, your own tone of voice, but it takes time.”
ELLE: You softened shapes for men and added authority to shapes for women. What was your thinking behind this?
GA: “In the ’80s, I created a new image for men and women, after decades in which clothes had been made of rigid materials. I wanted men’s clothes to be relaxed, casual, with little flaws, and so I chose soft fabrics and materials that caress the body. This was a new sensibility, because it also meant a sense of cleanliness, of precision, which took away nothing from men’s sensuality. For women, on the other hand, I realised that as they were increasingly present in the workplace, they needed outfits equivalent to men’s. These outfits needed to give them security, (and encourage) an attitude that would help them support their careers without giving up on being women. I sought to give them a stronger image, and thus the power suit phenomenon was created.”
ELLE: You have managed to make colours like greige and dove grey very covetable. How do you do that?
GA: “I have always loved neutral hues, first of all because they give me a sense of tranquility and serenity, and also because they represent the ideal foundations on which to build. They’re like a background colour, something that stays there, against which you can imagine and add other colours — different for each time, depending on your mood. As for greige, I was looking for a colour that would be warm and yet metropolitan, sophisticated and discrete but not boring.”
ELLE: How do you see fashion today?
GA: “It has changed a lot since I started out. I find that everything moves too fast today: we’re asked to churn out ideas and collections at an incredible rate, but invention and quality take time. Fashion ought to move at a more human, more authentic pace.”
ELLE: Do you think gender-neutral garments might be the future?
GA: “We are definitely moving closer to a ‘neutral’ garment that can be worn by either men or women. This game of fusion of male and female has always been one of the features of my style. In the ’70s and ’80s, for instance, I used certain kinds of liquid crêpe to make men’s jackets, and a lot of people were surprised because these were considered fabrics for women. I also think that things have to stay in proportion, as in any field. Men ought to be men, not wear women’s clothes. At the same time, however, I am convinced a woman in men’s clothes is very intriguing — though a man’s suit must always be redesigned for a woman, simply because women’s bodies are shaped differently. The figure must be shaped perfectly, without being ‘forced’, so as to underline its elegance.”
Excerpt from the August issue of ELLE