WKND EXCLUSIVE: 'Our way of dressing will change post-Covid-19': Giorgio Armani

Iconic fashion designer Giorgio Armani on responding to the social challenge that the novel coronavirus poses and why it's likely to change the way we look at fashion

By Mariella Radaelli

Published: Thu 16 Apr 2020, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 24 Apr 2020, 11:14 AM

With his elegant, agile mind and driven personality, Giorgio Armani, at 85, quickly reached out to respond to the biggest challenge of modern times. In these perilous times of Covid-19, the legendary Italian fashion designer was the first in his field to move quickly in the direction of life, turning all of his Italian production plants into sites for making single-use medical overalls and isolation gowns for healthcare workers.
In the late 70s, he revolutionised fashion by creating his iconic vision of modern dress that symbolised the beginning of a new society - his unstructured jackets and suits are still key pieces in our wardrobes. He has always worked around the idea of freedom and imagination as essential to his pure forms, a chic and minimalist style that today says as much about our common humanity as philosophical thoughts. Last month, Armani also donated about $2.2 million (2 million euros) to hospitals in Milan, Bergamo, Piacenza, Rome and Versilia as well as to the Italian civil protection agency, which is coordinating the country's response to coronavirus outbreak.
In Dubai, the iconic Milanese designer will celebrate the reopening of the Dubai Mall Armani boutique, whose remodelled interiors are designed by Mr. Armani himself, and the 10th anniversary of the ultra-luxury Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The event, which was initially scheduled for this weekend, has been postponed over the coronavirus crisis to the second semester of 2020, compatibly with the development of the worldwide health situation.
In an exclusive interview with the Khaleej Times, the charismatic designer shares his graceful outlook on life, fashion and lessons to learn.

Q: This is a further challenge in your long career.
A: I am very much a pragmatic man. I don't like sitting on my hands. Both as a citizen and as an entrepreneur, I felt moral duties and an obligation to contribute.
Q: You studied medicine for three years before realising that fashion was in your blood. Why did you choose medicine? And in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, is the current situation evocative of those university years?
A: I enrolled in the medical school thinking I would become one of those romantic and adventurous country doctors depicted by Scottish writer A.J. Cronin in The Citadel, a novel that impressed me tremendously as a boy. Now, more than ever, my youthful passion for medicine, that dormant gift, revives. I have feelings of closeness for all those health workers, whether they be doctors, nurses or stretcher-bearers. I sent a message of gratitude to each one of them. They are our frontline soldiers against Covid-19. What they do is amazing. At such a dramatic moment, their commitment is fundamental. They put their lives at risk every day during the pandemic. It is moving to watch their Herculean efforts through all the difficulties. We are all indebted to them.
Q: Does this specific production require ad hoc machines and equipment?
A: It is an almost artisanal production manufactured mainly manually as not all the available machinery is usable. For example, we use sewing machines to craft our single-use medical overalls. Of course, all the devices have undergone a proper certification, a guarantee of full compliance with the regulatory requirements.
Q: As a visionary designer, how do you reimagine your creativity post-Covid-19?
A: This is something to ponder on, yet there is no necessity of immediate choices in this regard. For now, I can say I miss working closely with my collaborators. I miss that connectivity at the workplace that overflows with creativity, and the looking into each other's eyes in mutual gaze. I miss the humming city, the sounds and even the noise of industrious Milan in the background, that complex jumble of human sounds, traffic and nature..
Q: Will Covid-19 change us as human beings? And will our way of dressing be altered by this experience?
A: I believe so. And even our way of dressing will change because it is inevitable. The approach will differ depending on the brands and the audience they are targeting, but I think it is premature to talk about it.
Q: As a child in Mussolini's Italy, you endured the hardships of WWII. Some of your friends were killed in the raids, and after the war you were badly injured by a land mine. Today, what does it feel like to have many people of your generation wiped out by the coronavirus infection? They found the courage to fight fascism and with sweat, hard work and determination managed to rebuild the nation.
A: It pains me deeply. But we Italians give our best when times are hard. Our natural creativity shines and we find a unity of purpose that is rare. I believe we will be able to turn this tragedy into opportunity. It is important to harness the power of reflective thought. Reflection results in meaningful learning on what happened. We'd better treasure the lessons we learn and understand what was wrong. The answer is working together, as only through collective will and commitment we can start all over again and grow into the future.
Q: You witnessed other dark times in the history of your beloved Milan: the heavy bombing during WWII, the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing that plunged the city into havoc and terror and the following 'Years of Lead' marked by both far-right and far-left terrorism. Today, sadness, sorrow, and bewilderment still fill our hearts. How did you feel and how did you react to the coronavirus outbreak in Lombardy on February 21?
A: When the virus first appeared in Italy, during the days of the Milan Fashion Week, I was the first to hold a show behind closed doors as a preventive measure to support national efforts in safeguarding public health and to protect the wellbeing of my employees and guests. I am very much a workaholic, but that day I felt the necessity to understand what was going on. I didn't want to move on.
Q: We all have a responsibility to confront Covid-19 and staying home is key to fighting it. Lockdown redefines our days. Is there a book you want to recommend?
A: A book I want to recommend is the very first book I read, Emilio Salgari's The Tigers of Mompracem (Le Tigri di Mompracem, an exotic novel published in 1900), a journey into adventures. A narrative from distant and fabulous lands, it tells about the indomitable pirate-prince Sandokan, the jungles of Malaysia, the fierce spirit of the natives, tigers, and elephants. When many years later I found out that the prolific Italian author wrote the story without ever leaving home, I loved it even more. The power of imagination is immense."
Q: This is collective suffering. What is the message to learn?
A: Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from this global health crisis is that only together and united we will overcome.

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