Giorgio Armani at his fashion show in Dubai on October 26, 2021
Italian designer Giorgio Armani at the One Night Only show of his Spring Summer 2022 collection at the Armani Hotel Pavilion in Dubai, last evening Image Credit: Anas Thacharpaddikal/Gulf News

He’s known as a living icon. A design revolutionary. A legend.

Giorgio Armani, the 87-year-old designer and entrepreneur, answers 21 questions for Gulf News that explore his journey of over 60 years from medical student to fashion luminary.

The making of fashion

1. The Armani ‘deconstructed’ jacket – 1975, a pivotal moment in fashion history that has redefined formal wear for both men and women hence. What was your motivating factor in going completely against the norm? What inspired this iconic change?

It was simply an instinctive impulse, which propelled me to tackle the issue of comfort in tailoring. I felt that while so many other things had evolved over time, the jacket had stayed unchanged from the time of my father, or even my grandfather.

It was still stiff, restrictive, and uncomfortable, still made in the same old way. I felt that people should be able to look smart and feel comfortable at the same time – that seemed to me to be a reasonable objective. So I stripped the garment right back, taking out padding and linings, and employing the new, lighter-weight fabrics that had been developed.

Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection
Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection Image Credit: Supplied/SGP

2. How has fashion changed over the years? You have a unique colour palette that you have held true to for decades. Why is that? What is the design philosophy you pursue?

My design philosophy is based around the idea of timeless style, rather than the pursuit of passing trends. This ensures that clothes are wearable for many years. This is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also of sustainability. But as to those aesthetics, my look celebrates elegance and refined simplicity. These are clothes that never wear the wearer – they never dominate or disguise. Instead, they are designed to bring out the character of the wearer and show this in a good light. The choice of a minimal, natural colour palette is all part of this approach. As for how fashion has changed over the years, I’d say that the influence of fast fashion, with its constant churn, is something that seems the absolute opposite of what I aspire to with my collections.

3. Any highlight about your 2022 Summer Collection that you might like to bring to the reader’s attention?

For womenswear, there are a couple of themes that stand out. One is the combination of soft, elongated jackets with wide trousers that accentuate the idea of movement, worn with flat shoes. There is an easy elegance, which is also, what I was aiming for in the eveningwear, where light, luminous, weightless gowns made of layers of tulle barely skim the body. As ever, there is an informality to outfits that might normally be considered the preserve of formal wear, like tailoring and eveningwear.

For menswear, I have revamped the suit in its shapes, proposing the idea of coordinated top and bottom: an evening shirt with a stand-up collar or a denim jacket-like cut combined with trousers with darts made in the same pinstripe wool, or a gilet-jacket with Bermuda shorts. The collection is permeated with a sense of lightness: weightless materials, fluid shapes that caress the body, a nonchalant attitude. A sporty way of dressing—dynamic, comfortable and bold — made up of instinctive and essential choices and colours.

4. What are basic tips to men and women who might want to create a functional fashion wardrobe without breaking the bank? The must-have elements and colours?

My suggestion is to invest in good quality, timeless classics – the perfect trouser suit, the best unstructured jacket, a simple black dress, an elegant coat. If you buy styles that are beautifully designed, they will not date quickly and so can become the pillars of your wardrobe. Then you can accessorise these with less expensive pieces. If you are looking for longevity in colours, focus on my habitual palette or greys and navy blue and black.

5. You were one of the first to refuse to take on underweight models. Do you think the fashion industry has progressed on this issue of poor health among models and other problems of abuse – is there better awareness or much more needs to be done? If yes, then what would be your advice?

By its very nature, fashion tends to create an unattainable ideal in order to ignite desire. These ideals are quite narrow sometimes, and very hard to break. However, there has been progress – the fact that you are even asking this question is testament to that – but there is still much, much more that needs to be done. The entire industry needs to recognise that it must respect those who work within it.

Giorgio Armani - Italian designer
Giorgio Armani - Italian designer Image Credit: SGP/Supplied

6. You are probably one of the last remaining independent designers who retain complete ownership of their fashion house. The pressures might have been immense to collaborate, partner, reduce the financial burden over the decades. Why did you decide to follow this path? How did you cope with the global changes that affected the industry?

This has never been an issue for me. I have been approached many times by individuals and corporations who have been interested in buying into my company. I have never been tempted by any of these offers. It is a question of motivation. What drives me, and has always driven me, is the desire to create. Moreover, in owning my own fashion house, I am at liberty to exercise my creativity in exactly the way that I choose. There have been stressful times, of course, but nothing that would make me relinquish the creative freedom my position affords me. As for global changes, life is by definition a process of change. You cannot fight change, but you can choose how you respond to it. What has kept me successful, I believe, is my passionately held philosophy of design. My aesthetic vision has never faltered.

7. Perhaps a key path to this was business diversification and you have branched out into movies, hotels, furniture, food, restaurants and mass fashion options. Did you ever fear that you were diluting the brand? What was your business perspective and creative vision when following this path?

You are only in danger of diluting your brand if you don’t know what your brand is, or stands for. If you have a steady idea of who you are, what you believe and how you wish to behave, then you can get involved in all manner of projects. As I said before, I have a clear vision of what Armani is, and the diversification you speak of was not so much driven by a desire to expand the business, but by the creative impulse I felt to develop an Armani universe. I wanted to stretch myself, explore my imagination. Far from diluting the Armani brand, these adventures in design have strengthened it.

Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection
Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection Image Credit: Supplied/SGP

8. How important are celebrities and celebrity endorsement to a fashion brand? How have you, as a fashion house, dealt with the ‘influencer wave’?

My first experience of what a celebrity can do for a brand was when I dressed Richard Gere for his role in 1980’s American Gigolo. That film brought my style to the world’s attention in an extraordinary way. However, in retrospect, I can see that Richard was not the huge star he is now back then, and so really, it was his performance and the movie that did the work, rather than his star status. Since then, I have worked with many celebrities – mostly in film, where I have dressed them on screen and off, often on the red carpet. However, I have dressed sports stars and musicians too, as well as many other people who are famous in their fields or in public life.

These people are role models and often come with a fan base, so it is good for a brand to have this sort of endorsement. But my own view is that this only really has meaning if the relationship is authentic. I like to dress celebrities who genuinely like to wear my clothes, which is why over the years I have developed friendships with many of them. People like George Clooney, who I outfitted for his wedding, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who I first met when he was a teenager and came to Italy travelling with some of his friends, or Jodie Foster, who I dressed for the Oscars and in doing so took from the “Worst Dressed” to the “Best Dressed” list – these people, along with the likes of Robert De Niro, Cate Blanchett, Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Roberts, are wonderful ambassadors because they wear Armani with conviction.

Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection
Backstage at Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection Image Credit: Supplied/SGP

9. Coming up with a cost effective design range – has that helped combat the rampant stealing by high street brands? Alternatively, does this imitation actually help increase the mass appeal of a label?

If you are referring to Emporio Armani, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, then the impetus for this was not actually about price, but about aesthetics. Back in 1981, when I started Emporio Armani, I simply felt there was a new type of customer out there who was young in spirit. This person wanted clothes that were metropolitan, experimental, more what we would today describe as “of the street”. The very name “Emporio” speaks of an “emporium”, a type of marketplace, and denotes a democratisation of fashion. Naturally, this is a way of bringing more people into the Armani universe. But 40 years ago, it was a project primarily designed to fulfil a need in fashion that was not being addressed by the conventional designers.

10. The Digital Age – in 2007, you were the first designer to broadcast your fashion show live on the internet. What was the industry response to this decision? In addition, how did that beginning prepare you for the current times, especially during the pandemic when most houses struggled with the impact?

I’ve always been interested in using technology. This was true of my move into the deconstruction of tailoring, where I made use of the new manufacturing methods that were available, and I have also consistently been fascinated by the developments in fabric design that have seen the creation of marvellous materials for me to work with. There is also something to be said for embracing the technology of the times. I regard technology as a useful tool. Though some were surprised when I first started to make my shows available for the public to attend virtually, I simply saw it as a way to bring my fashion to more people. In the event, this proved to be a great preparation for responding to the pandemic, when we could not have a live audience at fashion shows all.

11. What were the toughest decisions you took – businesswise, during the pandemic?

The toughest was probably the first one I had to make relating to the emergency: to cancel my Autumn/Winter 2021 live fashion show. To be honest, as it became apparent to me throughout February that the pandemic could not be limited to China, I began to feel we should be cautious. Then, when I realised that the situation in the region of Lombardy was becoming increasingly serious, I knew I had to act and make a decisive stand. So on the night before my show was scheduled to take place, I called the mayor of Milan. I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable about staging my fashion show as normal – I feared it might put my team and my guests at risk. I explained that I had decided to live-stream the event instead. It was tough, because we had put so much work into the collection and the show, and wanted to present it in the way we had planned.

After making that decision, the rest of what we had to do in the following months just seemed like common sense.

The influence of the UAE, Middle East and Asia

12. Speaking of digital expansion, you moved into Asia and the Middle East quite early. How important is this region for you, especially Dubai (UAE)? What percentage of your consumer base is from here?

The region is extremely important to the business. I am used to finding people all over the world who relate to my vision of refined elegance, but I have to say that in the Middle East the response has been particularly enthusiastic. I think there is something about the timelessness and essential design of my work that really seems to resonate with the people of the region. Furthermore, where my Armani/Privé couture collection is concerned, this part of the world and Dubai especially, has become a key market. Consumers here are particularly keen to seek out things that are rare and special.

Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection
Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection Image Credit: Supplied/SGP

13. How has Dubai inspired you?

Dubai started to inspire me when I first began to plan my debut Armani Hotel, located in the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. There was something so ambitious and so modern about the tower, it seemed to symbolise the energy, vitality and vision of the city. I felt that to be part of this was a perfect way of placing my design in a manifestly forward-looking project. This was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition of mine. I wanted to explore how an Armani hotel might look and to create an environment that could embody so many different aspects of my vision, based on timeless elegance. However, I also wanted to define a form of tailored hospitality that is difficult to find when you travel. In the past decade, the Armani Hotel Dubai has exceeded my expectations and has become, I believe, a landmark in Dubai.

Now – after eleven years from its opening – I am looking forward to staying there again and to proudly celebrating its continuing success.

14. Has the region influenced you creatively or as a business model?

Then there is the added element of how Asia has inspired my thinking. People regard me as a quintessential Italian, but my work takes in influences from around the world – particularly the East – and combines it with what I have naturally absorbed from my homeland. You will find colours, fabrics and, above all, geometry in my creations that will seem very familiar to those with a knowledge of the Middle East.

15. Expo 2020 Dubai, how do you think it ties in with the direction the brand would like to take in the UAE?

I remember when we held the Expo in Milan in 2015. It was a real moment of rebirth for the city, and I played my part by hosting a fashion show on the eve of its opening to celebrate 40 years of Giorgio Armani – and also, on the same evening, launching the Armani/Silos, my permanent exhibition and educational space in the city. The current Expo in Dubai, postponed as it has been for a year, has a similar energy about it to that which I recall in Milan six years ago. I like the emphasis on connecting people and creating a future together, and, of course, the fact that around 200 countries have created pavilions to participate is a statement of a global outlook that I believe in. I am also heartened that there is a Sustainability District – this conversation is hugely important, and it is good that Dubai has foregrounded it. With the One Night Only event, I took a further step in this direction as it was conceived to minimise the impact on the environment in accordance with ISO 20121. The measures we will adopt include avoiding single-use plastic and food-waste, favouring the rental of equipment and set-up material, encouraging the reuse and recycling of materials, and promoting separate waste collection and the use of hybrid or electric cars and LED lighting. Our suppliers will also need to comply with specific social and environmental clauses. Furthermore, to offset the event-related residual GHG’s [greenhouse gas] emissions, we will be supporting Nature-based solutions projects and have committed to continuing to reduce its environmental impact.

Backstage at Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection
Backstage at Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection Image Credit: Supplied/SGP

16. Can fashion truly ever be sustainable?

Well, we certainly have a long way to go on this, I acknowledge. Nevertheless, we must all play our parts. I have been looking at this question for a while now, and have undertaken many, many initiatives, like my sustainable collection from Emporio Armani, launched last year, made from recycled, regenerated and organic materials. We also aim to reduce the consumption of energy and water in the making of this range, through innovative production techniques. Generally as an industry we need to look at how we can improve sustainability – we need to examine how we create and make products, and how well we design those products to last, both in terms of aesthetics and quality, how we construct and run our stores, and how we run our offices.

17. What is next for Giorgio Armani the designer and the Armani fashion house?

More ideas. More creativity. More challenges. I am a driven person, I admit, but that drive excites me. I can’t rest on my laurels. I need to push myself to explore new things. That, after all, is the privilege I enjoy running my own business. mother. She was an incredibly elegant woman, she always made sure that my siblings and I looked our best. She used to say that if you wish to create beauty, only do what is necessary, and no more. That is a great lesson, as by trying to get to the very essence of things, through removing excess, you are left with something that is timeless.

- Giorgio Armani

A personal retrospective

18. Only living designer to have an exhibition of his work at the Guggenheim during his time – what is your reaction to this journey you have achieved – from medical student to iconic fashion designer? How has your childhood and growing up years fashioned the person you are today?

Interestingly, the pandemic has reminded me that I have lived through many crises over the years, the first being as a child after World War II. That was a tough time, and my family experienced genuine poverty and hardship, though my mother did an extraordinary job of keeping us well cared. I do think that if you have been forged by such an experience it can make you determined to do something with your life. The question then is what form that will take. Medicine turned out to be a false start, but I found design quickly and then I knew my destiny.

Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection
Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection Image Credit: Supplied/SGP

19. Who was or is your personal fashion inspiration? Moreover, why do you always tend to wear blue?

That would be my mother. She was an incredibly elegant woman, she always made sure that my siblings and I looked our best. She used to say that if you wish to create beauty, only do what is necessary, and no more. That is a great lesson, as by trying to get to the very essence of things, through removing excess, you are left with something that is timeless. The perfect trouser suit. The fundamental jacket or coat. The ultimate black dress. These things can be worn for many years without looking – or, perhaps more importantly, feeling – dated. I design through subtraction. I take things away to leave the essential. I have my mother to thank for that. And this is also what lies behind my choice of colours, which tend to be neutral and natural. If I wear blue, it is because it is an essential colour. It is like black, but with a little extra element of character.

20. Why do you prefer living on a yacht? What are the reasons for this lifestyle choice?

I don’t actually prefer living at sea – I simply enjoy having the opportunity to do so. It means you can really get away from the noise and bustle of modern life, and immerse yourself in the natural, the elemental. I find a stay on board a boat is always a refreshing and rejuvenating experience.

21. Anything else you might like to add …

Only that I believe that while the past year and a half has been challenging, it has also forced us to think and reflect on the type of world we wish to live in. Let’s not squander the opportunity we have been given to reassess our priorities.