Most fashion folk are wildly entertaining on the runway but hopelessly dull off it, anxious not to utter a word out of place, lest they spark a row or a consumer boycott. Giorgio Armani is the opposite. His shows are so muted he is often criticized for being boring. “Il Signor Beige,” detractors sniff. But off the runway he is honest to a fault. Just ask him about the future of fashion. “There’s too much fashion and of very little quality,” he says, at his home in Milan. “The current situation is unsustainable. We have to slow down. Designer brands cannot operate like fast fashion.”
What irks him is the new trend to produce multiple splashy collections throughout the year for different market segments. These days, there are pre-collection, cruise and resort shows before you even get to the traditional fall and spring seasonal fixtures. The ever-expanding fashion calendar is unsustainable not just in a creative sense but also an environmental one, Armani believes. Fashion is “on the wrong side” of the growing environmental debate, he says without hesitation. “We need to be more responsible, producing less but better, in a more ethical way. My style is timeless: My items last and are, as such, sustainable. I want to work even more in that direction.”
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Another innovation, social media, is also harming fashion, he argues. “Social media is important, allowing you to connect directly with your followers. We’ve been active on Instagram since 2012.” But he warns that “self-streaming and celebrity culture can produce the wrong imagery—blatantly showing off, getting as much attention as possible at any time.” He told The Times of London that women nowadays dress “too sexy… They should use their head, not just their body, to show off their personality, without being too crude.”
It’s a remarkable statement from a designer who invented modern celebrity dressing. In the early 1990s, after opening his first LA outpost, he changed the red carpet forever, dressing the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts and Jodie Foster for the Oscars. Soon, almost every celebrity wanted to wear Armani. He also famously created movie wardrobes for American Gigolo, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Although he is active on Instagram, he insists his approach to social media differs from that of his rivals. He rejects using youthful influencers in favor of “working with actors and actresses whose personal aesthetic and personality are in tune with that of Armani. For influencers to have genuine influence, people need to believe that their opinions are authentic, and this can only happen if there is a respectful relationship with a brand.”
He also insists he will stick to his timeless, finely tailored creations, rather than aping the extravagant social-media-friendly aesthetics spearheaded by Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. “I’m not affected by the fickleness of passing fads,” he smiles. “I prefer a measured and discreet approach which doesn’t reveal too much, because fashion must be about desire and imagination.”
The 85-year-old’s latest business focus is on the country where he first found global success: the US. By the end of this year, he will have completed construction of 260 Armani Casa luxury apartments in a 60-story oceanfront tower in Sunny Isles Beach, outside of Miami. Next year, he will begin revamping his boutiques, starting on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. And he will also begin construction of 19 Armani Casa apartments on Madison Avenue above his Manhattan flagship store. He is focusing on the US because “America responds to ease and sophisticated simplicity,” which define his style both in fashion and at home.
The new US investment comes after a rocky period for the firm. In 2017, revenues dipped 7 percent year-over-year to $2.6 billion, and gross operating profit fell 5.4 percent to $488 million. Armani himself admitted in a statement a year ago that he didn’t expect the company to return to growth before 2020.
While rejuvenating flagships, he has been closing smaller stores (he won’t say how many) and merging and consolidating lines. Cheap-chic Armani Jeans has been folded into A|X Armani Exchange, and Armani Collezioni will be phased out. That leaves Emporio, A|X Armani Exchange (his diffusion line) and Giorgio Armani (his high-end collection) as “the three reference brands that, once strengthened, will be better able to realize their potential.”