An Exclusive with Giorgio Armani as He Turns 90

What’s in a name? For one as prolific as Giorgio Armani, it’s the mark of talent, hard work and perseverance—things he is grateful for as he celebrates turning 90
Published: 8 July 2024
Happy 90th to Giorgio Armani.

Giorgio Armani, the man, is a living legend. Speak the name to anyone at all, even one who is completely out of the fashion loop, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ve not heard of him. After all, the Armani name is now associated with luxury products that run the gamut from suiting to underwear, from home furnishings to hotels, to chocolates and cosmetics even. It is a veritable Italian empire that has extended far beyond the confines of fashion, making it a truly remarkable success story.

This story began just shy of five decades ago, when Armani founded his eponymous brand in 1975 at the age of 41, after years of designing for other Italian brands. He tells us that he’s not one to “really suffer regret” about starting the business relatively late. “I’m very happy with how things have turned out,” he says.

It has been good indeed. In 2014, the Giorgio Armani Group acquired the entirety of the Armani Exchange brand after a multi-year partnership with COMO Holdings’ husband-and-wife duo Ong Beng Seng and Christina Ong that began in 1994. The Giorgio Armani Group now owns almost every facet of its business, while engaged in license partnerships for its beauty and eyewear divisions. It’s a feat to be relished. Rumours were abound throughout the decades of various companies wanting to own a stake in the Giorgio Armani empire, yet Armani held steadfast in maintaining full control at the helm.

At Emporio Armani’s Autumn/Winter 2024 menswear show in Milan, Armani took his bow in front of the set’s lighthouse, a spotlight illuminating him. He flashed the same charismatic smile he’s been giving at the end of every show for decades, except that now, he’s on the cusp of turning 90 (on 11 July, by the way). It’s quite a sight to behold, that in the darkness of the show space, Armani’s presence felt like it filled the entire room—that’s how you know you’re looking at a legend.

ESQUIRE: What is an average work day for you?

GIORGIO ARMANI: That is hard to say as every day is different. My days are full, very full, but I like them like that. I follow a strict routine that affords me the time and space to work in a concentrated way, and this is what makes me happy.

ESQ: With fashion having gone through various changes and challenges in the past decades, what keeps you inspired even after so long?

GA: I rarely lose my inspiration. Though when it does happen, I resort to my pillars, starting with my tried and true, and by doing, again and again, new inspirations begin to arise. My first and greatest inspiration comes from the world and from observing people. I have always accompanied social changes, providing an elegant response to real needs. That is what I continue to aspire to.

ESQ: You had no formal fashion education before starting your own brand. And now, we do see such creative directors at the helm of big-named fashion brands. Do you think a formal fashion education is not requisite to be a good fashion creative?

GA: For me the creative process is instinctive. I know what I am aiming for, and I know what I like and when I have achieved it. I also know when it is not right and how to correct it. I am not sure that talent and creativity have anything to do with formal training, but I am certainly not averse to people getting formally trained. Picasso, after all, was formally trained, and he used this as the springboard for his extraordinary innovations.

ESQ: Are there young designers out there who have captured your attention?

GA: There are some I am curious about, but I would not wish to single anyone out.

ESQ: In a recent interview with Business of Fashion, you mentioned, “I don’t feel I can rule anything out” when it comes to the future of the business, including an acquisition or an IPO. Do you think about the future or are you one to take things as they come?

GA: I am involving, in my plans for the future of the company, a team that can steer the ship. Because my approach has been so determinedly consistent and clear, it is not hard to see how we can maintain the right course. A foundation has been established, and I have very capable heirs and close collaborators who will lead Giorgio Armani into the future and ensure that what I have created lives on; that the Group is kept stable over time and consistently adheres to the principles that are particularly important to me and that have always inspired my work as a designer and an entrepreneur.

ESQ: Italian fashion brands, more so than others, are more interested in keeping their businesses privately owned. Why do you think that is so?

GA: Our culture in Italy is of a fashion industry that is full of family businesses—often with the founders or family members still actively involved. This makes it difficult to see how a group might be formed, as the instinctive position of a family business is to preserve its independence.

ESQ: The Armani brand—across the many different lines—has a consistently elegant persona. What does elegance mean to you?

GA: For me, elegance is a disposition of the spirit that is reflected outwardly, something profound that is echoed in a manner of dressing, but also in the choice of an object. It is a way of being—an innate gift that has a great deal to do with an ability to combine items of clothing and colours as well as to choose shapes in order to give life to one’s own style, a signature character and look which leaves an understated yet lasting impression.

ESQ: Is there a particular male muse in mind when you’re designing menswear?

GA: My father, who was always well-dressed in tailoring from that time.

ESQ: Navy blue is essentially an Armani colour. What drew you to navy blue as a colour of choice for yourself as well as now a signature of Armani?

GA: Navy blue is my go-to colour and daily uniform: a deep, vibrant colour that I find calming and that I have always loved. Blue is a great alternative to black, with all the neutrality of that hue, but with an added element in that it is a colour. It matches my personality—pragmatic and reserved—and focuses other people’s attention on my actions and words.

Richard Gere in "American Gigolo" was Armani's first instance of creating an outfit for film.
Just one of many looks for Leonardo DiCaprio's turn in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street".
In drama series "Blossoms Shanghai", Hu Ge was dressed in a number of Armani tailoring.

ESQ: Are you sentimental about the past?

GA: I am not a nostalgic person. Nostalgia leads you to dwell on the past, and from the point of view of a designer, it can be very dangerous: you forget to move on, to develop, to explore. That is why I am resolutely focused on the present and the future. I do value the past, as the present is always built on the lessons of the past. And I have fond memories of my life and my work, my friends, travels and achievements. But I prefer to focus on what I will do today and tomorrow. I live in the moment, and the moment to come.

ESQ: If you were to look back on your fashion career, is there a moment that stands out to you?

GA: Undoubtedly the first positive feedback when I was starting out; that was the moment I realised that I had made a solid contribution to liberating men and women from rigidity in the way they dress by offering clothes with simple, natural elegance, and achieving my vision. And then the various awards that were confirmation that my job was always going in the right direction. Dressing Richard Gere for American Gigolo opened up a world for me to work with cinema and allowed me to reach beyond Italy... as well as gave me notoriety, which culminated with the cover of Time magazine in 1982—these are moments I will never forget.

ESQ: You’re still going strong. Is retirement something that you’ve considered?

GA: I don’t think I will ever stop working because dressing people is my life’s great passion. I feel that I have so much still to do and I am genuinely as excited about getting to my studio every day as I was when I first started out all those years ago. In some sense, more so, as today there are fewer worries about whether I will be able to pay the bills.

Like his instantly recognisable designs, Giorgio Armani’s navy blue uniform is truly iconic.

ESQ: With your wealth of experience and knowledge, what’s one wisdom you’d like to impart?

GA: One life lesson that I have learnt is that for success, hard work is essential: talent is real, but I don’t believe that on its own it is enough to guarantee success. Work hard and possibly harder, believe in your ideas, work a bit harder, and you’ll get to the top. And even if you don’t get to the top, there is nothing to worry; being true to oneself is the best reward. Be yourself. Follow your passion. Stick to your beliefs. Dare to dream.

ESQ: At the end of it all, what would you like your legacy to be?

GA: The legacy I’d like to leave is one of integrity and commitment, of respect and attention to reality.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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