Why Giorgio Armani Says He’s “Anti-Fashion”


Mr. Armani–as he is always referred to, across multiple languages–doesn’t wait very often. He isn’t able to, given his empire, which spans such esoteric delights as Armani homewares and hotels, floristry and chocolates, with brand revenues totaling over $4.8 billion in 2019. Of course, what Mr Armani is best known for is fashion: his eponymous label, Giorgio Armani, founded in 1975; Armani Privé, his range of made-to-measure haute couture clothing for women, shown in Paris since 2005; and Emporio Armani. 

If Giorgio Armani is the purest distillation of Armani’s aesthetic ideology and Privé is his extravagant, exuberant and indulgent side–as clothes costing upwards of £30,000 have a tendency to be–Emporio represents a youthful esprit, despite the fact it turns 40 this year. The line will be celebrated, come autumn, with a show at Silos, Armani’s minimalist Milanese exhibition space, of Emporio outfits framed by photography that helps cement Armani’s vision, his universe. It is rare to get him to pause.

When he does so, for GQ, it is in Paris. He has just met privately with the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella–fitting given that Armani is Italian fashion’s elder statesman. They discussed the state of the economy, of the industry. Mattarella’s daughter, Laura, attended Armani’s haute couture presentation held at the Italian embassy in Paris. Two weeks earlier, in Milan, Armani had staged his first catwalk show since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, showcasing his Spring/Summer 2022 menswear line. Sixteen months earlier, in February 2020, Armani–presciently–was the first Italian designer to cancel a physical show over concerns for health. And a week after we meet he turns 87.

Both Armani’s energy and his appearance–tanned, slender, intense eyes, decisive movements – knock a good quarter-century off any estimate one may give, which, perhaps, connects him more intimately to Emporio than one might consider. “The idea of ‘youthful’ hasn’t changed,” Armani says. “It’s still as valid today. It’s the attitude that needs to be youthful.” He first began to show the Emporio Armani line in 1986, leading the way for other designers to launch lower-priced lines that have been alternately dubbed secondary, diffusion or bridge. Emporio Armani was always about way more than just affordability–although that taps, inherently, into a democracy that Armani admires. And he does not shy away from discussing it. “Emporio is for people that have a youthful attitude, that also, though, maybe don’t have the exact same means as Giorgio Armani,” he pauses. “Because, you know, the price is relatively lower–a little bit more accessible–but they still want those values of Armani.”

The Armani “look” is easy to define. As Bret Easton Ellis wrote in American Psycho, muted greys, taupes and navies, subtle plaids, polka dots and stripes are Armani. He weirdly missed out greige–the color Armani invented that looks like the faded facades of Milanese buildings, a kind of sandstone smoked with smog–and didn’t mention tailoring, which also underscores the designer’s look. But, value-wise, Armani is all about easy elegance, egalitarianism, blurring the lines between the sexes–back in the mid-1980s Armani was already proposing for Emporio pieces to be worn by men and women alike, long before the modern notion of gender fluidity had ever been conceived. His clothes are elegant, timeless, unobtrusive. They find parallels in Le Corbusier’s buildings, so-called “machines for living”, where form follows function, where ornament is crime. Emporio Armani is older than I am–just. When it was established, in 1981, it was an echo of an aesthetic that had, even at that nascent point just six years into Armani’s solo career, already shifted the axis of fashion fundamentally, reshaping the dress of the late 20th century and defining that of the 21st.

Richard Gere as the Armani-clad Julian Kaye in American Gigolo, 1980.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Paramount

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