Giorgio Armani – one of our generation’s greatest and most prolific designers – has said “luxury cannot and must not be fast”. It’s a notion that seems to directly contradict the rules of engagement for fashion designers working in the modern era. Creative directors are expected to design upwards of eight collections a year, brands must engage with an ever-rampant rotation of TikTok stars while still being “hot” on Instagram, they must cater to trends that will inevitably go out of fashion in a matter of weeks, and yet still engage with sustainable business practises. Slowness and consideration are resources in short supply in today’s industry, but if anyone can convince you of their value it’s Mr. Armani, who has spent the last five decades creating a brand so formidable it has made the word ‘Armani’ a synonym for Italian glamour, and turned its namesake designer into a billionaire seven and a half times over.
“They say I have powers, that I can see into the future,” the 87-year-old said in an interview last year, when the rest of the fashion industry was hoping his oracle-like qualities would help guide them through the first global pandemic in a century. Armani was one of the first brands to cancel his runway presentation when the coronavirus broke out in Milan in early 2020, showcasing a characteristically deft ability to read the cultural moment. He later revealed that the memory of the AIDS epidemic, which took the life of his long-term partner Sergio Galeotti in 1985, informed his decision to take the virus so seriously so early on. His decision no doubt saved lives, encouraging other prominent Italian fashion houses to follow suit, and he went on to become a figurehead in the Italian fight against COVID-19, donating millions of dollars to hospitals and transforming Armani factories into a production hub for hospital uniforms.
And it was a boon for the Italian economy that his business stayed afloat throughout the next tumultuous 18 months. As one of the few remaining independently owned Italian fashion houses, Armani boasts a staff of more than 8000 most of whom live and work in Italy. His brand’s resilience in one of the most trying periods in recent fashion memory is a testament to his aforementioned “powers”. Mr. Armani has long had the foresight to diversify Armani’s offering, which now spans ready-to-wear and couture, red carpet and fragrance, beauty, restaurants, cafés, bookshops, and hotels. It’s commonplace now, but Mr. Armani was one of the first designers to transform his fashion label into an all-encompassing lifestyle. He’s a designer who has remained at the top of his game for almost 50 years, his designs beloved by everyone from Zendaya to Marion Cotillard, Lady Gaga to Nicole Kidman. Julia Roberts wore an Armani suit to win a Golden Globe in 1990, then 23 years later Cate Blanchett wore Armani to win her second Oscar. Another eight years later, Meghan Markle reached for a printed Armani wrap dress to partake in one of the most groundbreaking television interviews in history. This kind of continued relevance is not normal in fashion. The number of brands who have seen meteoric success, only to burn out a decade later due to financial troubles, emotional turmoil, or the ever-looming threat of simply going “out” of fashion is immense. How has Armani not only survived but thrived for close to five decades?
Born in a small town in Italy’s northeast in the years before the second World War, Mr. Armani’s initial goal was far from the fashion mills of Milan: he wanted to be a doctor, having developed a passion for medicine after reading the A.J. Cronin novel The Citadel in his youth. He later studied medicine at the University of Milan, but left his studies to join the army eventually landing at a military hospital in Verona. Upon returning to Italy in the late 50s, Mr. Armani switched careers and took a job as a window dresser at the Milanese department store La Rinascente, where he ascended the ranks to become a seller for the menswear department. By 1963, he’d been tapped by Nino Cerruti as the brand’s menswear designer. It wasn’t until 1973, when he met Galeotti – the great love of his life – that he was encouraged to consider opening his own fashion house. In 1975 he presented his first ready-to-wear collections for menswear and womenswear to immediate critical acclaim. His designs completely modernised the suit, creating a softer silhouette in more relaxed fabrics, switching the usual black and navy for modern shades of beige and grey. The look went on to become synonymous with a new generation of ‘power dressing’ for both men and women. É nata una stella.
By the 80s – his star on a remarkable global rise – Mr. Armani began devising the idea for a more affordable line, launching Emporio Armani in 1981. Now celebrating its 40th year, Emporio Armani was an early beacon of democratised luxury, offering Armani’s signature brand of laidback glamour to an entirely new audience. Mr. Armani got the word out by dabbling in then-unconventional advertising methods like (shock, horror!) TV advertising. This was a mere year after he’d set the American market alight with the ‘greige’ suits he’d designed for Richard Gere in the cult hit American Gigolo. Emporio Armani made that inimitable Italian cool factor accessible. In 2021, Emporio Armani continues to be an important global power player, complementing the Giorgio Armani line while still carving its own unique visual identity. For the brand’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection – photographed here in the Cava Michelangelo, the marble quarry where Michelangelo took the stone to create his masterpiece sculpture David – Armani offered an optimistic vision for fashion’s post-COVID future. The collection opened with a bold, electric blue jacquard coat dress, fastened at the neck with an explosive magenta flower resembling a just-burst firework. In a moment where many designers opted for muted pragmatism, Mr. Armani embraced the opposite (though there was a hearty dose of chic cashmere loungewear), courtesy of hot pink velvet suiting, shaggy purple shearling coats, and satin bubble-hemmed cocktail dresses.
Elsewhere, classics in the Armani stable were updated for 2021: 80s-style suiting reworked in graphic zigzag prints, crisp white shirts affixed at the neck with cascading tassels, men’s tuxedos studded with a constellation of delicate crystals. “The 80s were a magical moment, an outburst of creativity, fantasy, money that came right after the harshness of the 70s. I do not know if after the pandemic we will be entering similar conditions,” he told press after the show. “I certainly hope so.” Mr. Armani may shake off suggestions he is the industry’s fortune teller, but the collection revealed a lot about his plans for the brand’s future. As it did for so many other designers, the COVID era caused Mr. Armani to reflect on the breakneck nature of modern fashion manufacturing. He decided to pare things back, revealing in an interview in March 2021 plans to reduce his annual collections by up to a third. This ethos extends to the clothes themselves, which embodied a sensible mix of longevity and desirability – well-made staples that can be worn for years, perhaps even decades, with playful twists that keep the ever-fickle modern consumer tantalised. This, we can imagine, will be the modus operandi of Armani’s fashion offering going forward.
Continuing to dominate the global fashion industry after 50 years is a tall order, particularly for an 87-year-old, but Mr. Armani is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s constantly bucked against the idea of selling the company, a rarity in the Italian fashion scene. Mr. Armani watched the equally meteoric rise of Gucci and Fendi, both of whom went on to sell majority stakes to Kering and LVMH, but Mr. Armani remained resolute in his plans to retain control of his namesake brand. He recently hinted at the possibility of a “liaison with an important Italian company”, though remained tight-lipped on the details, insisting the potential merger will not be with a French conglomerate. As for the question of succession? The Armani company is filled with members of Mr. Armani’s extended family, but it’s his elegant 51-year-old niece Roberta Armani – whose career began with a sales job at the Emporio Armani store on Madison Avenue at age 16 – that is tipped to eventually take over. “She’s young and attractive and makes good Armani-clad arm candy for her uncle or for any one of the million celebrities that he dresses,” fashion writer and illustrator J.J Martin told the LA Times of Ms. Armani in a rare profile in 2013. “She’s a fundamental link to [Giorgio] both internally and externally.”
Whatever is on the horizon, there’s no doubt Mr. Armani is working ten steps ahead of the rest of us. This is the man who single-handedly revolutionised workwear, transformed red carpet dressing, and democratised Italian glamour by bottling it and delivering it to every corner of the globe. He once said “I love things that age well, things that don’t date, that stand the test of time and that become living examples of the absolute best.” This quote is the closest I’ve found to encapsulating Armani’s much-discussed ‘secret sauce’. While the rest of fashion runs on a hamster wheel of fetishised newness, Mr. Armani’s staying power has always relied on consistency. He isn’t a designer who flip-flops based on the fickleness of trends, rather, he creates timeless clothes that consecutive generations of fashion obsessives have fallen in love with and stayed faithful to. Ultimately, Mr. Armani is proof that some things – Negronis overlooking the Conca Dei Marini, Sophia Loren in Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Michelangelo’s David – simply never go out of style. Viva Italia. Viva Armani.
CREATIVE DIRECTION: DANÉ STOJANOVIC & MARNE SCHWARTZ
PHOTOGRAPHY: FRANCESCO SCOTTI
FASHION DIRECTION: ANNA CASTAN
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: JESSE VORA
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: SABINA MARINI
HAIR: ANA RODRIGUEZ
MAKEUP: CHIARA GUIZZETTI
MODELS: JHONA BURJACK / IMG & MARIANNE FONSECA / FORD MODELS
SPECIAL THANKS TO FRANCHI UMBERTO MARMI SPA