With one of the longest careers in fashion, Mr Armani felt the occasion of his Pre Fall 20/21 show was the right time to re-educate the industry on the house DNA and his priorities as a designer. At 85, he is as ardent and sharp-witted as ever, leading a private tour of an exhibition he personally curated that showcases a striking array of accessories from the archives. On display in the minimalist spaces of Armani/Silos, Accent of Styleencompasses work from the late ’70s to today; with themes by color or concept rather than in chronological order, it serves as an impressive reminder of just how influential the designer is to his peers.
“We’ve done a lot of work on accessories, which I think has been ignored [by the press] over the years,” he reflected, explaining the need for his shoes and bags to always “marry” and complement the clothes. There was a sense that this is more important than ever to the designer, as it is to the majority of today’s luxury brands who understand the immense impact a single ‘cult’ bag or shoe can have, not just on their sales figures but to their appeal to fashion’s highly influential youth market. Just look at Bottega Veneta’s Daniel Lee who has hammered this point home, injecting a newfound relevance into the artisanal leather-goods house with his ferociously successful clutch bags, square-toe mules and strappy sandals.
The exhibition preview was cleverly timed a few hours before the main Pre Fall 20/21 show, subconsciously smartening up the senses to hone in on his use of accessories throughout the 88-look offering. Titled Transformism, it conveyed a liberal spirit. “Here [with this collection] there’s a sense of freedom,” he concluded. “I wanted to give women the ability to change, to transform, while still retaining the Armani codes.” Bold accessorizing was indeed on display with chunky earrings, embellished pouch bags and wide hoop-buckle belts.
While offering his customer a newfound freedom, it was clear that Mr Armani hoped he too could enjoy a little of the joie de vivre spirit he had so intentionally injected into his clothes. “Times are changing…people expect me to always do masculine suits but I think you should allow me to do something different.” The result was a collection in a color palette of “red, black and champagne” that balanced the masculine and feminine, with suiting that took on a softer edge and slender evening looks that borrowed from the boys.
As is so often with Giorgio Armani, there were nods to the 20s, 30s and 40s but this time with a twist of Eastern aesthetics, showing up as “ironic touches” via leather and velvet hats and mandarin collars. “It is a territory that has infinite ideas,” Mr Armani said, “and offers a designer so many dreamy references.”
Despite mining the decades from the past that he continues to find so inspiring, it was clear that his desire to embrace the future has made him question who his customer is today and how her needs might be reflected in her wardrobe choices. Jackets offered a multitude of iterations, from elegant bombers to classic black tuxedo’s styled for the everyday. Pantsuits informed the collection’s framework in fact, with a play on shapes from boxy to looser silhouettes and nipped waist styles.
For his closing section of evening-wear looks – a solid lineup of signatures and perfectly executed tailoring – the energy in the show space seemed to lift. A sheer sequin shirt generated applause and it was followed by some solid shimmering cocktail numbers with opulent allure. There will always be an audience for Armani’s languid silks and velvets – he knows his clientele and how to keep them happy, even if he likes to take a risk every now and again.
The same customer will undoubtedly love Armani’s first high jewelry collection, presented earlier in the day in a suite at the Armani Hotel in Milan’s city center. Cut in refined shapes of moons, stars, and flowers and rendered in white or rose gold with diamonds, it is easy to visualize the quietly elegant collection paired with some of the aforementioned tailoring.
Marking the 10th anniversary of the Armani Hotel Dubai in April next year, Mr Armani will use the opportunity to simultaneously show his Cruise collection and perhaps even a selection of couture. “Maybe there will be a way to show the couture too because I have a lot of clients from the Middle East who normally come to Paris to see it.” Commercially, it all makes sense and will also mark the reopening of the Giorgio Armani store. As to whether the Cruise line will make any reference to the Middle East, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. “I still have to think about that,” he admitted, laughing.