Represent Esquire China, I e-interviewed Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani.
In 1980s, the second wave and the third wave of feminism was happening all over the world, and that’s when Armani created “power suit”. Younger generation might not be familiar with it, but I can illustrate in this way: nearly all the formal womenswear is inspired by Giorgio Armani’s power suit.
However, how is the designer’s own reflection on feminism and his creation?
I attached my interview with him here for your reference.
You have been named special ambassador of Expo 2015. How did that happen? What will you do in this position? As a fashion designer, how will you use your position to make Expo 2015 special?
Being named as Special Ambassador has made me very proud, and it will allow me to give my personal contribution to Expo. I always had a debt of gratitude to the city of Milan, which welcomed me and understood me, and has always inspired me. By a happy coincidence, the universal exhibition coincides with the 40th anniversary of Giorgio Armani, for which I had already planned a number of events and celebrations. It will be an honour and a pleasure to work with Expo, which will give Milan a different view of the world.
Another exciting event is the upcoming opening of the Armani/Silos, which will house a complete archive of these 40 years. Is it a simple archive or will it have any other interesting features? Will there be any special exhibitions in the future?
Silos is not going to be a simple archive, but a space designed to preserve and protect – not only metaphorically – the creative heritage and the history of my brand, but I hope it will also boost and bring out creativity, research and development. Silos will include a very important collection of garments, accompanied by sketches and drawings. The archive will be a starting point and a source of inspiration for young designers, not a fossilised place, but vital raw material and a driving force.
Your famous power suit came into existence in the 80s, exactly between the second and the third feminist wave in the Western world. Were your womenswear creations (power suit, understated style, simple lines) a reflection of feminism in some way? If not, do you think your success was partly due to feminism?
I wouldn’t say that the power suit was a reflection of feminism. It was rather inspired by an actual need, which I met with a pragmatic invention that had a strong social impact. It all began from my desire to create simple, soft jackets, in which the wearer could move freely and naturally. I soon realised that women, with their increasingly busy working life, needed clothes that were as comfortable as men’s. They needed something that would give them dignity, an attitude that helped them cope with their professional life without giving up being women.
In the last 30 years, the values associated with women’s clothing have changed quickly. Do you think it is still seductive and appropriate for a woman of our time to wear a Giorgio Armani power suit created in the 80s? Why?
I think women’s achievements of the Eighties are now an established fact, and women have accepted to show their softer, feminine side, without however acting like dolls. Today’s power suit, if it still makes sense to use this definition, is basically a trouser suit, but it has become more fluid, less exacting than in the eighties, totally untied from its masculine legacy. The jacket is so soft that it feels like a shirt, with absolutely feminine materials and designs.
In recent decades, you have been both the designer and the person who has run the company. Creating designs is more of an artistic task, while running a business requires logical thinking and strategy. Do you think of yourself as more of an artist or a rational/logical person? Are these two sides of you in conflict with each other? How do you handle it?
I don’t think the artistic component is in contrast with the logic side. I call myself a fashion designer and a businessman, and my vision of business is an integral part of my way of doing fashion. I immediately realised that, to grow the way I wanted, I had to remain independent, and in order to do that I had to hold the reins of everything myself, including from a financial standpoint. It was a natural process, although very challenging. I’m a very pragmatic person and I don’t find it difficult to be a creative and an entrepreneur at the same time.
Fashion is linked to the entertainment world. Your name has been associated with Hollywood since the days of American Gigolo in 1980. You have created costumes for more than one hundred films. Is it different to create costumes for films compared to designing lines for the market? How? If you could design costumes for a classic film again, such as Cleopatra, what would you create?
It is certainly different from creating for the market. You get to work with a number of different directors and actors and you have to help build the characters through clothes. Then the clothes must be designed for the time in which the film is set, whether it is in the past – as in The Untouchables or the recent A most Violent Year – or even in the future, as in Elysium. It is an extremely interesting work that originates from within the story and has always stimulated me very much creatively.
As an Italian fashion designer, you have earned a global reputation in New York, USA. Giorgio Armani has a special New-York/Hollywood/American DNA. How do you view the Italian heritage of your brand and your American DNA?
The United States is much more than a solid, faithful market to me. The American public was one of the first to appreciate my work and my desire to innovate, and this is something I cannot and I will not forget. Besides, many of the concepts behind the American DNA include values and thoughts that have always inspired me – tenacity, a sense of responsibility and freedom, fully believing in what you do. I think this is also why I immediately found great support in the US.
Some say you are not at all flashy compared to other fashion designers. You also said: “I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t smoke and I go to bed at ten and a half every night”. However, in an interview with Suzy Menkes, you said: “I have so many things in my life. I have the money, and I’m very famous. Everyone recognises me when I walk down the street. It’s like being Madonna. It is so much fun”. Do you enjoy being a public figure and being famous? Does this help the Giorgio Armani fashion empire? How does this affect your private life?
I am clearly honoured to be considered an icon by someone. It is great, but personally I don’t feel as such. Sitting on my laurels and indulging in self-satisfaction are attitudes that don’t feel like me; I always prefer to focus on my work and what I still have to do. I believe my fashion business is supported by some innate insight mixed with a sense of aesthetics, great determination, consistency and hard work, but certainly not the fact of being considered a celebrity.
Giorgio Armani was one of the first fashion brands to reach China. It was a wise decision. What made you decide to reach the Chinese market? It is an interesting fact that it happened exactly ten years after the Giorgio Armani brand entered the US market, where you achieved a tremendous success. How was fashion in China in the ‘90s? Was it comparable to the US market in the ‘80s?
I got there before many others, back in 1998. Looking back at it now, it was a pioneering decision that met with instant success. It was a risk of course, but I’m convinced that there is no business without risk. It was a very important experience and it taught me a lot. Since then, the business has grown at a fast pace. As for the two markets, the Chinese and the American one, it is impossible to make a comparison because of the deep cultural diversity between them. The one thing they have in common, though, is the enthusiasm with which I was welcomed.
There is a saying that “Chinese clients, rich but unsophisticated, often recognise the “logo”. Do you agree? What do you think of the Chinese market and its customers?
I don’t entirely agree. I think that Chinese customers are increasingly informed on luxury goods, and not only do they have a better idea of what they want, they are also willing to pay to buy authentic, high quality products, regardless of the logo. China is now one of our main markets and one of the most receptive to my message. It has changed a lot in recent years and I find it amazing that this change is not only radical, but also very fast. Contemporary China is proving to have incredible energy in looking to the future, but at the same time an equally strong bond with tradition.