Giorgio Armani is a giant among men, dressed in a $2,000 navy blue suit. Sixty-seven years since first setting foot into the fashion industry as a window dresser for Milanese luxury department store La Rinascente, the 88-year-old brilliant Italian fashion designer is still kicking.
Mr. Armani, you once described your forties as just the beginning — the moment when you start to become aware. How would you now describe your eighties?
My eighties are the moment of intense liveliness, of complete dedication to a business that’s become a lifestyle, and the time in which I am finally trying to find a balance with leisure. Work comes first, still. Over the course of my life, I have sacrificed love, private life, and time for me, all on the altar of work. But I have also created an empire that is important for so many. I care deeply for all my employees. Although, the older I get, the more I feel regret for things I have not done, places I have not seen, loves I have not cherished… But I erase those feelings by working a bit harder. It’s an endless path of improvement.
Do you think that you will ever be satisfied?
I think I will stop working when I am finally satisfied… And I cannot see that in the foreseeable future. The urge to do better and even better than that is what pushes me forward. I also practice patience and dedication because not to become self-indulgent or complacent is the biggest challenge to discipline. And in order to be disciplined, you need to be hard on yourself, no matter what. And I learned that lesson from life itself… When I was a young designer, I was very happy to be taking care of creative matters, but when the sudden loss of my business partner Sergio Galeotti forced me to, I became an entrepreneur, too. It was a hard transition, but I overcame it with hard work. That’s just the way I am.
Are you just as hard on your team as you are on yourself?
I am, in fact. When you are as demanding with yourself you are with your team, it’s the best way for everybody to give their best. But for myself, I am the author, and by right my name sits on everything I do. I am actively involved in every aspect of my business not just because of the name, but because everything I do stems from my intuitions and visions. I believe in what I do.
Have those visions and intuitions always been part of your life?
I remember seeing my mother wearing her jackets growing up… She was doing more, with less, and certainly not dressing like a doll. The jacket had a function, but she wore it elegantly, and it gave her presence. And my own urge to create comes from that love of beauty, and that love of function. I look at things, strive to make them better, more useful, more elegant. It’s a process that is as long as a lifetime.
Would you say that patience has also been crucial to this process?
Of course patience is a virtue that I value and cherish a lot, not least because it is completely at odds with these fast times of everything now. People want everything right away, just to forget everything right after they get it. Patience means effort, endurance, vision and focus. It is one of the doors to happiness and enduring success. To me, at least.
Can someone like you, who has so much going on in their life, even afford to be patient?
It is very difficult, indeed, but I always try to be. Taking the right time to make things or make decisions is the only way to make things well. The idea that everything needs to be done fast is a misconception. The more you grow, the more you learn that taking time is important in order to truly progress. Actually, during this global health crisis, I’d say this is definitely the longest time out I have had over my career. It’s been an opportunity to slow down and realign everything; to define a more meaningful landscape.
During Milan Fashion Week at the end of February, long before any largescale events were cancelled, you chose to stream your runway show online instead of showing it in person. Was it a surprise to you that no other designers in Paris followed your example?
In a way, yes. But I can’t and won’t blame anyone. This pandemic is caused by an invisible enemy! It is easy to dismiss everything and think, “This cannot happen to us.” In hindsight, probably, the whole of fashion week should have been cancelled, but that would have been a huge damage… Of course, in the current climate fashion is not an immediate necessity, as we all stay home and clothing is certainly not in short supply so as an industry, I think we can help with reconverting productions.
You have halted production to start making medical overalls, right?
Right, as a lockdown was imposed on factories, I thought it was my duty to contribute to the emergency with what is truly and deeply needed. This crisis calls for a contribution from each one of us. This is mine. We all need to step up, because we are all part of humanity: it is just as simple as that. We are not a privileged minority and we should all erase that mindset. We can win only if we are united. But I also haven’t stopped working completely. Together with a small group of people I am carrying out part of the activities where possible, and I am getting ready for the recovery. I think that after this forced timeout, we will have a very different attitude to luxury goods in the future.
What kind of effects do you foresee for the luxury industry because of this change in consumer behavior?
The decline of the fashion system as we know it began when the luxury industry adopted the operating methods of fast fashion: the endless delivery cycle in the hopes of selling more, but forgetting that luxury takes time to be achieved and to be appreciated. Luxury cannot and must not be fast. It makes no sense for one of my jackets or suits to live in the shop for three weeks before becoming obsolete, replaced by new goods that are not too different. I don't work like that, and I find it immoral to do so. In fact, I have been working with my teams for weeks so that, after the lockdown, the summer collections will remain in the boutiques at least until the beginning of September, as it is natural. And we will do that from now on.
Will trends become less important in the future?
Most likely. Beauty and quality, for sure, will regain relevance. Fashion should respond to the needs of people, making life easier and more beautiful. I do not like the blind acceptance of the silliest trends, doing things on repeat with no soul. I am for consistency, and soulfulness. My ideas have brought enormous change to the world of fashion, and I can say that without sounding pompous. I see copies of my work everywhere, and this is the reason for enormous pride because it means I have really touched people’s lives. And this is why I keep on doing my thing.