Giorgio Armani has always had a singular vision. Back in late February when cases of COVID-19 were beginning to rise in Italy, the designer made a snap decision to stage a virtual presentation. Here, as part of ELLE’s look at the future of fashion, he reflects on that decisiveness and lessons learned from 2020 so far.
You seem to have adapted incredibly well—and very quickly—to the pandemic, when you made the decision to alter the format of your show. Do you see yourself experimenting with show formats going forward? What do you think the future of fashion shows is?
I believe that there will always be a place for a performative approach to fashion, where you “show” your work to the world. What form that takes, ultimately, is the question here. Do we need live attendance, or can this be done virtually? Maybe we can have more intimate gatherings for the true professionals and mix it with digital to reach a wider public. Going fully virtual is not a good solution I think. It can be done once, but buyers and press need to see clothing up close, in real life.
What I am sure of, is the need to do less and to do it better. So, in the future, I do believe that there will be fewer seasonal shows and that brands will think carefully about staging lavish events unless there is a genuine reason for doing so. On my part, I have decided to optimize time and resources, showing menswear and womenswear together in September, while the Armani Privé Atelier in Milan will be available for individual bespoke appointments. And the next couture show, which will take place in January in my Milan headquarters, will be seasonless and will therefore include garments suitable for winter as well as lighter pieces for summer.
So many brands are struggling to figure out a path forward. You’ve lived and worked through several economic crises—what advice would you offer them?
The crucial thing to make a success of any brand is to have a personal, authentic vision that you genuinely believe in. You then have a reason for your brand to exist, and a compass by which to steer your activities. Stick to your beliefs, don’t be side-tracked by criticism or trends. Listen and take on board what people say, by all means, but always follow your instinct, and have self-belief. You may need to adapt to different circumstances and trading conditions–as we are all doing at the moment–but in the end your single-minded focus will mean that you have a good chance of succeeding. The alternative, which is to get caught up in second-guessing what people might want, or trying to follow transient trends, or responding automatically to things said about you by others… that way lies confusion, not only for yourself and your associates, but also, more importantly, for the consumer.
Certainly this period has given everyone time to reflect—what have you learned over the last few months that will influence your work (or that you feel will influence the industry) going forward?
What I have realized is the truth of something I have been concerned about for a while now –that the problem with luxury fashion over recent years is that it has followed the path of the mass-market fast-fashion brands, churning out far too much ill-conceived product that nobody needs. But the issue lies not only with the manufacturers and producers, but also with the consumers. They too need to consume in a more mindful way. The good thing is that we are now beginning to understand what true luxury is: the freedom to walk outside, to travel, to see our friends and loved ones. In this context we may well have a very different attitude to luxury goods in the future. We may appreciate the simple things in life more, and so when we come to purchase items, we may well do so more thoughtfully, with more consideration, and appreciate them all the more for it.
What developments are you particularly excited about and how can they impact the industry?
I am excited by the opportunity the current situation has given us all to review our lives and our priorities – and that applies to the fashion industry too. If we are smart, we will learn from this experience. I have always stressed the fact that there is a need to slow down, to show and produce less and to return to a position of taking into consideration the real requests of customers. I therefore expect a truer system to emerge, on a more human scale, where creativity and quality are paramount. That will be a good byproduct of what has been a genuinely tragic and trying time.
Your brand has made commitments toward sustainability and social responsibility. Do you feel that events of the last several months will help or hinder those movements?
I am sure they will help. You cannot help but be struck by the difference in the quality of the air and the way nature is reasserting itself now that we are polluting less. Consider the recent data that shows a reduction in pollution over cities in China, and also here in Milan… the clean waters in Venice, the dolphins swimming closer to the port in Pisa. These surely are signals we need to keep in mind when this emergency is over. I have long held that sustainability is an issue that we in fashion, as an industry, must address. That is something that will only be accelerated by the experience of the past few months, where we have seen the benefits to the environment that have resulted from lockdown.
What do you think about the growing push for diversity and inclusivity within the industry?
I cannot comment on how other companies within the industry regard this matter, but I can say that the color of someone’s skin, ethnicity, social background, age, not to mention sexual, political and religious orientation, for me do not make, nor have ever made, any difference. The commitment to act free from any form of discrimination when it comes to hiring and career advancement is deeply rooted in the Armani Group’s value system. Anyone can move up the ranks, at any time: individual abilities and initiatives are the way for this to happen. Diversity is an asset to be nurtured; inclusiveness is a moral and professional duty. I keep it well in mind, and I make sure that my employees do so too.
What old practices do you feel the industry must move away from?
There have been things I have felt we should change within the fashion industry–or as I see it, what has evolved to become a “fashion system”–for a long time now. So, while I do believe there is a role for showing collections on models to bring designs to life, do so many people still need to fly around the world to see them? The decision I made in February to hold my women’s show behind closed doors and live-stream it was, of course, provoked by the COVID-19 situation, but it was an interesting exercise and did demonstrate that there is more than one way to do things effectively. As I said before, one change I definitely believe will happen is that brands will think carefully about how many shows they stage. For instance, we are currently evaluating skipping, or reducing to the minimum, the pre-collections. I think it is sufficient to show only one collection per season, which also includes the pre-collection. I am also committed to putting clothes in store when they match the season outside. No more winter overcoats being offered in July, or linen dresses in January. Let’s get back in step with nature.
How did you manage to stay inspired and creative while in isolation?
That has really not been a problem, as my inspiration comes as much from within as it does from outside stimulation. Creativity is a gift, and if you are a creative person you are compelled to express yourself–it is not a choice. I have fed my curiosity online, through the media, and by looking at books and films, much in the way that I usually do. It is true that I have missed the nuance of human interaction, although I have had a core team isolating with me, so have been more fortunate than many in that I have had social connection throughout. But having new ideas has never been an issue for me, and I have to say that through this extraordinary period, I have felt stimulated to ask many questions, and asking questions always leads to creative answers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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