Giorgio Armani is arriving in the City of Gold. On Tuesday, October 26, the legendary designer will stage his One Night Only event at the Armani Hotel Dubai, kickstarting with an exclusive runway.
The fashion giant is happy to return to Dubai after 11 years. “The Dubai event has an extraordinary meaning for me,” Mr. Armani says from Milan, his ocean-blue eyes shining brightly.
It will be a memorable night, a tribute to “a truly international city.”
The One Night Only Dubai event was initially scheduled for last November, then cancelled due to Covid-19.
The grand event celebrates the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Armani Hotel Dubai inside the soaring Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
The iconic fashion designer, 87, has dominated the fashion business for decades, and his style is with us every day, as recognisable as a visual artist’s brush-strokes.
As a real king of style, Armani has touched every segment of fashion — be it haute couture, runway, cinema, theatre, ready to wear, accessories, eyewear, watches, jewellery, interior design at Armani Casa, Armani/Libri or bookstores. Then, again, there are hotels, restaurants, cafés, scents, cosmetics (Armani Beauty), chocolates (Armani/Dolci), and more, continuously revealing his signature style, minimalism that embodies a deep sophistication.
You are a taste-maker and a rule-breaker; you revolutionised people's way of dressing by exploring the possibilities of shapes that have freed them from constricting tailoring. Even your most recent creations have clean lines and fluid silhouettes.
When I first decided to explore deconstructing tailoring, it was a spontaneous impulse born out of logic. The jackets that we were wearing at the time – the late ‘70s – were not substantially different from those our fathers or grandfathers had worn. I wondered why tailoring had stayed fundamentally unchanged in a contemporary world that evolved.
Armani with models at his Spring/Summer 2022 show (Photo: SGP)
Using new manufacturing techniques and modern fabrics that had become available, which managed to be of a lighter weight yet strong, I set about creating a new type of jacket. It had fewer pads, less lining and was designed to look smart but be comfortable. What started as an experiment for men extended to my designs for women. I see now that this was, above all, a commitment to delivering comfort. If you are comfortable in your clothes, you feel confident. It was also an exercise in innovation – in challenging myself to challenge convention. These impulses have persisted throughout my career, and all my work is still motivated by instinct, backed up by logic.
What is the secret to your creative longevity? How does your signature style keep evolving?
These are questions I ask myself often. I believe that my staying power is probably down to the fact that I have never pursued trends. Instead, I aim to create pieces that have timeless style: They can be worn for many years and have little to do with the conventional notion of fashion, with its preoccupation with what is “of the moment.”
As I looked for style rather than fashion, I have tapped into a customer base that recognises my aesthetic and values it. In addition, there is another aspect to Armani that ensures it remains popular: Clothes must be wearable and make the wearer look good. Fashion sometimes forgets this. If a garment remains only for the catwalk or magazine editorials but is not purchased and worn in the real world, it is not serving its purpose as a piece of authentic fashion design. It is the role of the fashion designer to serve the customer. Always.
You described yourself as an optimistic realist. The pandemic posed numerous challenges. But the most creative brands turned out to be resilient. What are the most positive, perhaps even unexpected outcomes for fashion arising from this period in history?
I would love to say that I believe recent events will change us for the better, but in my experience, each time, there is a discussion that the world has changed, but the reality is that we tend to slip back into old habits. It is, perhaps, only human nature to do so. However, some discoveries have been made over the past year and a half. I sincerely hope we learn from them. The pollution reduction is a signal we need to keep in mind when this emergency is over.
Covid-19 has made me re-examine the way we as an industry do things. In February last year, the decision I made to hold my women’s show behind closed doors and live-stream was, of course, provoked by the Covid-19 emergency, but it was an interesting exercise. It did demonstrate that there is more than one way to do things effectively.
One change I believe will happen is that brands will think carefully about how many shows they stage. I am also committed to putting clothes in-store when they match the season outside — no more winter overcoats in July or linen dresses in January. Let’s get back in step with nature. This thinking will help us reduce our environmental impact and put fashion on a footing more in tune with the customer’s needs.
Are there new, unexpected stylistic elements that grew out of the pandemic, something to treasure for future fashion developments? Was it a creative time?
Peculiarly, it was a creative time. What has been fascinating is that I have become aware of a genuine desire to reconnect with beauty. We have been starved of this, and now we crave it.
From a fashion point of view, it means that while the athleisure aesthetic may have become further embedded in our lifestyles, a counterpoint to this has emerged – a wish to dress up for the return to socializing.
I sensed this even before stores were reopening, so I have been exploring the more dressy end of my collection exactly as I pursued the more casual part. However, many things remain unchanged in my thinking too, which was also a type of revelation. The pandemic gave me cause to pause and ask myself many questions about my beliefs.
And I am proud to say, many held firm: For example, my conviction that clothes should be wearable and relatable for real people; and the importance of quality, in production and design, so that pieces have longevity, not just from the point of view of construction, but also about their aesthetic relevance. The pandemic has reinforced many of my ideas, even though it has challenged others.
Forty years ago, you created Emporio Armani, your ready-to-wear collections dedicated to young adults, which was way ahead of its time. Does success in fashion mean being ahead of the times?
I believe that it derives from being in tune with the times. When I started Emporio Armani in 1981, I felt the need to address a new type of customer – young in spirit, metropolitan, experimental. It was prompted by observing changes in the culture and seeing a desire among a new demographic for something they could wear and rally around.
Since then, Emporio Armani has remained true to that initial vision. As I have evolved creatively, I have developed Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani in parallel, reflecting the culture’s subtle changes. But I always stayed true to my conviction that there is a place for the energetic aesthetic of Emporio to run alongside the more elegant, restrained universe of Giorgio Armani.
An exhibition in Milan celebrates the 40th anniversary of Emporio Armani; you have personally curated the show, The Way We Are. Held at your exhibition space Armani Silos, it runs until next February. It supports Save the Children projects aiming at combating early school drop-out. Is listening to society and its social issues fundamental for the fashion of today and tomorrow?
I don’t know if it is crucial for fashion. Personally, living as a member of society, I do observe it. And whenever possible, I try to involve myself in initiatives that benefit people. This philosophy has led me to collaborate with UNICEF, WaterAid and Water.org on the Acqua for Life project to bring clean drinking water to communities deprived of this essential life-giving element.
Or I am thinking about the PRODUCT (RED) project launched by Bono and Bobby Shriver to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. It is the responsibility of every citizen to help others. That is why I donated to the fight against the pandemic; I manufactured protective clothing for those engaged in tackling the emergency, and why I am now supporting Save the Children.
For you to “be in the moment” has always been pivotal. Does it mean being in tune with the historical, social, and human reality that surrounds you? How do you reconcile that with creating timeless fashion?
This may sound like a paradox. On the one hand, being attuned to the moment is critical to understanding how to create clothing and accessories that people will want to wear. On the other, I aspire to a timeless aesthetic. I suppose the reality is that my antennae pick up shifts in the culture, and my response is always filtered through a highly personal perspective.
From the Giorgio Armani Spring Summer 2022 collection (Photo/SGP)
I will always express my ideas in a way that champions elegance and simplicity, comfort, sophistication, and an essential sense of style. That is where the timelessness originates. Look at the birth of Emporio Armani as an example of this: An idea born of a specific time and place that gave rise to something much longer-lasting through a timeless interpretation.
You started the One Night Only tradition in London in 2006, followed by Tokyo one year later, and then Beijing in 2012. Your One Night Only series touched Rome and New York in 2013 and Paris in 2014. Tuesday's event will also celebrate the tenth anniversary, now eleven years, of the beautiful, classy Armani Hotel inside the Burj Khalifa. Can you tell us something about the evening?
The One Night Only series of events is my way of giving a special presentation to a particular city and country, and since the first, in 2006, I have staged them around the world. These projects typically involve a fashion show, a party, and live music. The event in Dubai has a special meaning to me. Not only is it designed to bring a taste of Armani to the Middle East, but also it celebrates my debut hotel in the Burj Khalifa. That was the fulfillment of a long-held ambition of mine. Of course, I wanted to explore how an Armani hotel might look and also wished to define Armani hospitality and service. I wanted to create a hotel that felt like an authentic home away from home, with the type of welcome we Italians are famous for.
Amal Terrace at Armani Hotel Dubai (Photo: Giorgio Armani)
I envisioned a place that would treat guests as well as if they were my house guests. In the past decade, the Armani Hotel Dubai has exceeded my expectations in this respect, and so now I am looking forward to proudly celebrating its continuing success. Last but not least, the Dubai event minimizes the impact on the environment in compliance with the ISO 20121 standard. We will be adopting measures in this direction, such as using hybrid or electric cars, avoiding single-use plastic materials and food waste. Our suppliers, too, will be required to comply with specific social and environmental clauses. Additionally, we have committed to support nature-based solutions projects to offset the event-related residual GHG emissions.
Are Dubai and the Middle East becoming good players in the fashion world?
Dubai is now a truly international city. It has attracted many of the world’s famous and established fashion brands, eager to bring their collections to that part of the globe. Inevitably, this sort of development, coupled with the evident dynamism of Dubai and the region in general, means that fashion will become ever-increasingly important there, a cultural phenomenon.
What is the role of the Middle Eastern market for the iconic Giorgio Armani brand? What’s new in terms of stores and projects?
The whole world is my market. My concern is not geographical or cultural but more focused on a shared sensibility. My experience is my aesthetic based on an elegant and essential approach to timeless design. It has an appeal to a specific type of customer, and I find these people worldwide. The Middle East is no exception. And I am pleased to say that I have a growing number of customers in the Middle East, especially where Giorgio Armani is concerned. Interestingly, my Armani/Privé couture collection also appears to have many fans in the region, people looking for something truly unique and different.
Have elements of Middle Eastern art or music ever been a source of inspiration for your fashion?
Indeed, other cultures often inspire me. In particular, I find inspiration in places I have visited. The East, in general, has played a large part in formulating my design aesthetic. I am interested in the colours and fabrics associated with the Middle East, particularly the geometry of its art, both ancient and modern. Music from the region is also something appealing to me, particularly as it becomes mixed into the sounds of North Africa. Armani may be symbolic of Milanese style, yet if you look carefully, you will see that I like to create something distinctive by combining the creative spirit of my homeland with other influences. It is all put through my creative lens, so the result is highly personal. You could say it is more Armani than purely Italian.
Last year, under strict lockdown, you told us about a book you loved, the first you read as a child, an adventure book by Emilio Salgari published in 1900 entitled The Tigers of Mompracem. You advised us to immerse ourselves in those wonderful exotic stories in the painful, sad days of the pandemic. What advice do you have for us now?
Last year, I did indeed resort to a form of escapism, using the imagination to transport me because traveling was an impossibility. Now, as we become released from the grip of the pandemic, I believe it is time to immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of the real world. Go to galleries and exhibitions!
See the works of the masters and those who have just graduated from art school. Do not shut yourself off from what is out there. Do not pre-judge it. Explore and digest and make up your mind about what you like. That is the beautiful thing about freedom. After the past year and a half, we have all realised that freedom is the true luxury.
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