Forza fashion: Armani’s pioneering vision

This year, Emporio Armani celebrates 40 years of existence with a Milan exhibition. Scarlett Conlon talks to the man about his casting of Posh and Becks as underwear models and why he is fiercely anti-nostalgic

Giorgio Armani ponders on the era-defining castings of Posh and Becks back in 2008 in his Emporio Armani advertising campaign. He recalls that “in those years, David was the center of attention” and that Victoria was also there. They embodied the moment, the metrosexual man and the seductive, entrepreneurial woman in the mirroring of their personalities. They both paid great attention to their bodies [so] it seemed like a good idea to have them wear underwear. It was easy to convince both.”

Armani – or Mr Armani as the fashion industry unofficially-officially refers to him – is a man who is no stranger to having the right idea. His multi-billion-pound Giorgio Armani empire is only one example. His Emporio Armani brand, for which he was able to get the most talked-about couple in the world down to their pants, is another. He established the Emporio Armani brand in 1981 to supplement his mainline. After seeing a “gap in the market” and a need for something more, he celebrated its 40th anniversary with an exhibition in Milan that documented its history.

Armani, 87 years old, says that he wanted to demonstrate how innovative the brand was from its inception. He is famously anti-nostalgic like many other designers of his generation, most notably Karl Lagerfeld. He initially said he didn’t like the idea of an exhibition, but he later changed his mind and adopted the exhibition concept as an experience and a manifesto.

UNK london nail polish bottle

The Way We Are, Armani’s visual tour through the past, is a visual feast that documents key moments like its first menswear catwalk shows in 1985, its iconic campaigns shot by Peter Lindbergh, Marcus Piggott and Armani’s long-time collaborator Aldo Fallsai.

Armani reveals in rare self-congratulatory moments that “Honestly, it feels as if an accomplishment.” “The collection that grew out of my desire to communicate with the younger generations became an integral part of the Armani life as a whole. One that speaks a metropolitan vocabulary that still retains my pared down, essential idea of elegance. The first years of Armani’s brand are the ones that I love the most, simply because we kept trying to find the right communication medium, the perfect tone for a collection that wasn’t so new.

This sounds familiar in today’s world of brands trying to reach Gen Z with their marketing messages, but Armani’s innovative methods back in 1981 were groundbreaking. Emporio Armani’s massive glossy bi-monthly magazine, which was published in 1988, is one of the most valuable assets. It helped to establish the foundations for fashion industry’s new concept of combining commerce and content.

Armani says that while it is common for fashion companies large and small to produce content, today Emporio Armani Magazine was a new publication. He credits Rosanna, his sister, for helping him to “create a product which was much more than just a catalog: a magazine in which photographic reports about the collection were accompanied with articles on the most diverse subjects, written by prominent writers.”

Armani created a special issue to commemorate the brand’s anniversary. It features current Italian icons such as the Ferrari F1 drivers and Armani ambassadors, Charles Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz, in conversation. Pierfrancesco Favino, actor, discusses what it means being an actor. Masafumi Suzuki, GQ’s most acclaimed editor, discusses the power and versatility of the suit in conjunction with shoots for current collections.

He says, “I believe printed matter will never be lost, because it is eternal in this age of transience. This is the message I wanted to send with the special issue of the magazine. This is how I wanted to portray this moment in time. It will feel fresh and relevant in 20 or 40 years.”

Image: Courtesy of Giorgio Armani, exhibition The Way We Are

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a tribute to Milan, where Armani is considered king. Emporio Armani’s Linate airport hangar has welcomed visitors since 1996 with shining skyscraping signage. It is now being celebrated in all its glory. An international metropolis with an Italian soul (exactly like Emporio), and the iconic “Broletto”, billboard in central Milan which, along with the Beckhams saw Rafael Nadal and Cristiano Ronaldo become huge in their underwear. He admits that he has a soft spot in sport because of the “discipline and hard work” he associates with.

He says that he is proud of the Broletto billboards’ inclusion in the Milanese urban landscape. “What began as a new idea – adopting bold advertising language and bringing it into fashion – has evolved into a series endlessly entertaining people who pass by that spot.” Armani, who gave more than EUR2m to hospitals across Milan, Rome and Piacenza during the devastating pandemic, decided to abandon advertising on the billboard and instead send messages of support, hope and happiness. “It’s a blank canvas, which allows me to communicate clearly and it is something I really enjoy.”

He applies this sentiment to Emporio Armani’s 40th anniversary and future plans. He says, “It stands to a set of values which are not only aesthetic but are based upon my appreciation for simplicity. And elegance.” “The only way you can push the boundaries is to continue looking at the world and at the evolutions in society, and to act creatively. For me fashion is always a reflection and sometimes an anticipation of the moment.”

Emporio Armani: The Way We Are will be on display at Armani/Silos Milan from 6 February 2022

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