A Living Legend: In Conversation with Giorgio Armani

As his 90th birthday approaches, Giorgio Armani walks us through his journey as one of the greatest designers of our times.

The lexicon of Armani’s is extensive, from Armani Privé’s evening wear to the highly anticipated residential projects by Armani Casa. Armani is not just the last name of a fashion designer—it is an empire built by the illustrious Giorgio Armani. His journey is an age-old story of how hard work begets success: from working as a window dresser to crafting a line of unconstructed suit jackets. The latter would eventually be the first menswear collection Giorgio Armani created under his eponymous label in 1975.

His approach to menswear using lighter fabrics was considered “feminine”, breaking the sartorial norm at the time and earning him the moniker “King of Blazer”. This is, however, his least-mentioned success among the vast sea of headlines. He is, after all, a man of many firsts in this capricious industry: the first to livestream a fashion runway and the first designer to stop recruiting models with low BMI, to name a few. With time, it’s proven that the designer marched into the fashion industry playing his own set of drums by ear, and he has never missed a beat.

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Few designers can claim that they’ve created such a lasting influence on the industry and fewer can say that they remain the sole owner of their brand. “For me, there is just one life and my work runs through it. I truly enjoy being involved in all aspects of the company,” the enthusiastic designer confessed to GRAZIA Malaysia as he gears up to celebrate his 90th birthday this July.

“No one wears navy like Mr Armani.” Fashion showgoers will agree that while they would constantly be mesmerised by Armani’s timeless tailoring, the main highlight will always be the half bow by the designer as he closes the show, grinning from ear to ear in his quintessential navy top. Some see him as one who shatters the stigma in fashion, while some think he is the epitome of consistency and precision. For those who know him better, he is simply a shy man. There’s no denying that time is never an obstacle for the spirited fashion visionary. “The trick is to keep looking forward; that keeps me energised,” the designer shared, as he walked us down his glory decades.

Keep reading for our Giorgio Armani interview

How do you feel being mentioned alongside your age often?

It’s more of a compliment than anything else. Ageing is part of life—with age comes experience and, I hope, a degree of wisdom. If you’ve lived as full and extraordinary a life as I have, you are very lucky. The trick is to keep looking ahead and that keeps me energised.

What is your first fashion memory?

It would be my parents. My father was someone for whom it took very little to look elegant. He loved American movies which were full of the formal elegance he admired. My mother was naturally beautiful and very elegant herself; she knew how to dress and made sure that her children were always well dressed too, though we had little money.

You mention your mother very often in interviews. What is your most memorable moment with her?

There are too many to recount, but there’s one when I went to a children’s summer camp on the coast of the Adriatic. I remember my mother, my brother, and I took a train with shiny wooden seats and were dropped off in the middle of the countryside since there was no station. The summer camp building, rising white against the blue of the sky and the water, was as beautiful as a postcard. We used
to go out on the water in what was known back then as a moscone, later called a pattino: a pedal boat made of two white-painted planks and a makeshift seat, the two oars in my mother’s hands.

When you first started making womenswear, there were more masculine silhouettes but gradually, Giorgio Armani’s womenswear embraced femininity. How did the change come about?

I don’t think that my approach has changed. I started making womenswear because young women—my sister and her friends in particular—were asking me for the same designs that I was developing for men: soft tailoring. Since then, I’ve had time and space to explore my aesthetic and from that base, I’ve been able to create pieces that are perhaps, perceived as more traditionally “feminine” in appearance.

But to me, femininity is a quality that can come through even when we are talking about silhouettes that derive from the “male” wardrobe, like the trouser suit or the tailored jacket for instance. It is more about the relationship between the fabric and cuts, along with the body of the wearers.

From the outside looking in, what do you think Armani looks like?

I like to think that people get a feel for our commitment to elegance instantly. I’m never one who follows passing trends, but have always aspired to create things that will last—not just because they are well-made, but also because they are designed to stay timelessly stylish. Today, being environmentally responsible is tossed around aplenty. While I heartily applaud this as a positive development, I realise that
I have been instinctively delivering collections in this vein for decades. My customers know this too, and this is what they are attracted to—designs that make them feel and look good for years and years.

Giorgio Armani interview
Mr Armani strolled around Los Angeles in 2003. Photo Courtesy of @giorgioarmani

You hosted a fashion show at your house last year. Would you say you tend to blur the line between your private and professional life? How did you manage to live under public scrutiny for so many years?

Work keeps me healthy and motivated. I’m passionate about my work so I never have to draw a distinction between private and professional in that way. For me, there is just one life and my work runs through it. I truly enjoy being involved in all aspects of the company.

Of course, living like this means you’ll have less time to simply relax with friends and family. However, over the years I have found some ways to balance between hectic work and enjoying a good time, so I still manage to take pleasure in things like my holiday homes and my yacht. As for scrutiny, it is a matter of how much you wish to put yourself out there, and as a man who has always been quite shy, I have been careful enough to protect myself from attracting too many glares.

What do you see when you look at the younger generation in the current fashion scene?

I see many young people who are passionate and interested in fashion, which is wonderful. When I first started, fashion design was not even a much-considered career path. However, I do think the younger generation today has to contend with very different forces as compared to my time—as a result of the digital age and the ubiquity of social media.

It is true that you can speak to the world through your smartphone, but that also brings in greater noise. I think it must have added the loads to the young people who are perhaps still trying to find and manoeuvre in the scene, eventually following the paths they have in mind because there is a constant conversation going on out there, delving into what they are doing. Thankfully, I did not have to pit myself against that.

In your opinion, what’s the best way to break into the current fashion industry?

It depends on what you want to do within the industry. There are many fashion courses now—a route that did not exist when I was younger, and this is a tried and tested way to learn skills. But I would say, even if you have studied fashion, go get some real-world experience. I started as a buyer in a department store and one thing led to another so go work in retail, work with a magazine, work in a design studio. Meet people. Watch, learn, and grow.

What would you do differently if you had the opportunity?

I used to say that it’d be good if I had not been so dedicated to my job. But recently, I realised that this is simply what I’m made for. is is who I am. So that sort of thought is rather pointless and I don’t believe in regrets. I’m very happy with how things have turned out.

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

I would like people to think of me as someone who championed the idea of elegance above short-term fads. I want to be known as one who contributed to defining timelessness in fashion, one who valued eternal style over fickle fashion.

I also want to be someone who defines the role of a fashion designer who serves the customer, rather than engaging in vanity projects. In my opinion, my designs will only become truly fashionable when they are worn by actual people. The catwalks or editorials are fine and can be compelling, but if these pieces are not enjoyed by people then these garments will not be considered as fashion.