After Five Decades, Giorgio Armani Continues to Lead the Fashion Industry

Artwork by Cayce Zavaglia; Photographs by Jens Mortensen

But this time with a new mantra: Less but Better.

The first Armani show that I saw was in his minimalist theater on Via Borgonuovo, in the heart of Milan in the early ’80s. I was a young menswear editor and he was already Gorgeous Giorgio, having recently graced the cover of Time magazine. The clothes and the models, the room and the people that surrounded him, the grand palazzo and the whole city of Milan were shaped by his stylish vision. Like the universe in which Richard Gere’s character lives in American Gigolo, always effortlessly dressed in Armani, every tie matches every shirt, every couch is coordinated with every lamp, every car shares the style of the building where it is parked. What I remember and what I understood at that time is still what I believe today: His vision has never wavered, and most of Milan still proudly embraces his unmistakable tastes, now recognizable around the world. His magnificent obsession with fashion, taste, and authenticity still burns.

Related: Armani Launches First Residential Project With Interiors Designed By Giorgio Himself

Q: Your generation of fashion designers defined ready-to-wear and created the fashion system as we know it. This business model evolved for more than 50 years, but today it has entered a crisis. Recently you said that you want to change this system and move the calendar for the presentations and for the sales.

GIORGIO ARMANI: Through the years I have seen fashion getting farther and farther from its original mission, which is, in my opinion, dressing people in clothes that make life easier and more beautiful and helping to define personal identity and iconography. Everything in fashion lost its original sense in the pursuit of mere commerce and insatiable profitability, on one side, and in the need for always new communication for its own sake, on the other side. At one point, clothes became, almost totally, a second thought. Or, worse, they became a concept, the idea of clothes. And we started producing too many clothes, in an endless cycle that took the meaning out of them. Throughout the years, I’ve held to my high standards, even when I might have looked and sounded anachronistic. Unfortunately, what has happened in the few last months has made everybody reconsider the quantity and the modality for the production and for the presentations. The future of fashion can be summed up in the manifesto: Less but Better. We will need to produce less so we can give more value to the things we create and conceive these things as carriers of timeless values. When I say less, I mean less fashion shows and less sale seasons. Maybe two collections a year. I foresee collections with a longer life in the stores and a connection between the natural seasons and the commercial offers. These are simple, small adjustments but of major relevance and with maximum impact.

Q: From your first collections in the 1970s, part of your mission has been to popularize good taste and make fashion more available. Do you still believe in this mission in the age of fast fashion and celebrity culture? Do you believe that Less but Better is sustainable?

GA: The idea of buying less but buying better demands a reeducation of the shopper, whose behavior and desires have been corrupted by years of fast fashion, by the celebrity culture, and by an obsessive communication. Let’s be clear: I am not an enemy of fast fashion, which has always had a place in the market, popularizing designers’ ideas and making our message available to a larger audience with a smaller buying power. But today fast defines not just a way of production but a way of thinking: Because a T-shirt is inexpensive, don’t wash it—just throw it away after wearing it once. This is to an extreme, but the philosophy behind it is amoral. And I think elegance is also a moral statement. It is in my world. I want to remind everybody that an Armani jacket is pricey because it is the result of extensive research, in the construction and the design as much as in the fabrics and the yarns. These are parts of a process that fast fashion does not involve. Fast fashion looks superficially fine but has no substance. I believe that, given the right proposition, people will want and will appreciate substance again. My offer in the market is versatile and varied enough, in price and in taste, to reach a large and multigenerational audience.

Q: Your clothes are sold all over the world, and your fashion is more global than ever. At the same time, you have held to your Italian identity and to those values of Made in Italy, of which you are the best ambassador. How can you combine globalism and nationalism?

GA : The prominent character of my work is the process of accomplishing simplicity. Taking away in order to create more value and more meaning. This process is not as easy as it sounds, because simple does not mean simplistic. I am making this point because it is through elimination and the creation of meaningful garments that I am able to combine globalism and national identity. My Italian values are not in my iconography, like stereotyped images in an Italian postcard, but they are values found in the design and the fabrics of my clothes, not just the appearance. It is an added value inside my creations, something highly appreciated abroad. I am a promoter of an Italian savoir faire that is timeless and without borders, that finds expression in clothes and in objects whose beauty becomes apparent through a process of elimination. This is how I do it.

Q: You have always expressed your political ideas through your clothes. Your fashion has been the perfect mirror for revolutionary social changes, like the women’s-empowerment movement and the evolution of the male identity. What do you think of today’s political messages in fashion and of the idea of gender fluidity?

GA: I feel that today’s involvement of fashion in politics is very superficial, an easy communication shortcut that poses the risk of reducing political activism to pure marketing. Fashion is by its nature political because aesthetics are political. Fashion defines the identity of a person in a community, communicates values, expresses a lifestyle and a philosophy. But the political message of fashion should be in the clothes, in the way they are created and produced, and in the meanings they carry. This message should never become a slogan. My thinking applies also to the discourse on gender fluidity. I was lucky enough to live in the 1970s. That was the time when female and male androgyny was really revolutionary. It was a kind of natural evolution, with its roots in the culture of the times. Today, too often, it looks like just marketing. Nevertheless, I will always believe that clothes have no gender. I’ve built my whole career on the fluidity between male and female identity.

Q: Your communication has been incredibly consistent though the years and your advertising, your fashion shows, and your stores all have a precise aesthetic. How can you combine your iconoclastic vision with an always-changing world? How can you talk to an audience obsessed with newness and fame?

GA: I go back to my original idea of synthesis, what I was describing earlier. That is my strength as a man, not only as a designer but as a businessman. Through the years, I worked hard to keep my point of view: In my fashion and in my communication, I created a style that is timeless. But I never considered my consistency as immobility. My style has been and is always in evolution, adapting by small increments and carefully moving with the changing times. I would agree that my way of communicating—understated, sotto voce—can do nothing against the screaming and the loudness. But I believe that I can still reach deep in the soul of my audience, delivering something that is authentic and is forever, something that avoids the surface and goes straight to the heart.

Q: For decades the name Giorgio Armani has defined an incredibly modern idea of luxury, in my opinion. How would you define luxury in the future world?

GA: I would keep my original definition: with honesty and with authenticity. I did not change my vision, and these recent terrible months made me believe even more in the value of what I have created. Real luxury needs to be authentic, and in my world, the authenticity of the creation, of the design, of the materials— and, yes, of the communication too—is the first and most important quality to emerge. Always.