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“I Did Everything”: On His 40th Anniversary, Giorgio Armani Remains Resolutely Emperor of All He Surveys

At one of the many media interrogations that accompanied the celebration of his label’s 40th anniversary, Giorgio Armani admitted there’s nothing he likes more than dinner at home alone, with just his cat, Angel, for company. It was a typically contrary declaration from the designer, hymning antisocial solitude from the eye of the celebrity hurricane that raged around him for a good 36 hours. Day One saw a store opening, a dinner, and a party in Armani’s club Privé, with Boy George deejaying. Tom Cruise was at all three, riding a selfie wave before heading west to Marrakech for David Beckham’s birthday party (also a 40th).

The highlight of Day Two was the opening of Armani/Silos, the designer’s monumental new permanent exhibition space, which was followed by a comprehensive catwalk crawl through Armani’s career in haute couture: 11 themes, more than 90 looks. Tina Turner applauded vigorously from her front-row perch near Glenn Close, Sophia Loren, and Lauren Hutton, longtime Armani stalwarts who acted as handmaidens for the duration of the festivities. Cate Blanchett, another devotee of note, was in that same front row, two down from Leonardo DiCaprio, who, in the extreme spirit of the whole event, happily wiled away the night playing Pied Piper to a spirited entourage of dozens. You can’t blame Mr. A for eventually saying Basta! and going home to his pajamas and his cat.

But don’t for a moment think he’s slowing down just because he’s about to turn 81. Armani was 40 when he launched his own business. He felt the late start keenly—that was surely why he was so definite about what he felt he had to do—and he admitted he’s been in a race with himself ever since, making up for the time he feels he lost way back when. Hence the impossibly prodigious output. As well as the store opening, the Silos, and the show, there was a side trip for a curious few to see developments at Armani Casa, his interior design studio that is currently running 12 projects, from L.A. and Miami to Manila and Chengdou. The biggest? The 700 apartments in Mumbai’s World Towers, which, at 117 stories, is the tallest residential building in the world. All over the walls of Armani Casa’s offices were the designer’s own sketches for room layouts and pieces of furniture. He is clearly no mere figurehead.

And he’s definitely earned the right to blow his own bugle, as he pointed out while he was walking journalists around his exhibition space. “I did everything,” Armani said. Not just the outfits—all 600 of them, starting 30 years ago, because, sadly, no one ever thought about posterity during the first pell-mell decade of the business—but also the look of the building. The Silos used to be exactly that—grain silos for the Nestlé company. Redevelopment restrictions made it impossible for Armani to open up the space, but the lack of windows inside the five-story structure actually adds to the heady atmosphere: pools of shadow and light, swathes of raw concrete against which the clothes float like flowers or birds, striking contrasts between the cultured and the raw, the excessive and the starkly minimal. The clothes are arranged by theme, not chronology, and the fact they are all drawn from ready-to-wear collections will compel a re-evaluation of the tired old line about Armani being the emperor of greige. That’s a box he’s never been happy about anyway. So there is one room of hell red, another saluting the eccentric decadence of chartreuse, another that corrals a handful of looks from 81/82’s sensational samurai collection. And all of these clothes were made to be made and sold in Armani’s stores, rather than as one-offs for an elite clientele. (There is talk of another separate museum for Armani’s haute couture.)

The aim is for the exhibition to be dynamic, not static, with the mix changed every six months or so, which is why Armani won’t call the Silos a museum. Still, there is an inescapable sense of permanence in the solidity of the building itself. It was built to last, and that loans some metaphorical weight to the fact that a man of Armani’s age has now made it the receptacle of his life’s work. He is so furiously engaged by all his activities in the present that it’s inevitable to wonder whether he wonders how the fruits of his labors will endure in the future. Does he, for instance, imagine what people will be thinking when they’re walking around Armani/Silos in a hundred years? “I’ll be somewhere up there looking down on their reactions,” he responds. Telling, perhaps, that the theme of the fifth floor of the Silos is Luce—Light. So that’s where Giorgio Armani will be, in the light, with his Angel.

—Tim Blanks,

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