By  on October 28, 2009

MOSCOW — Giorgio Armani said Tuesday that he has begun assembling a close circle of executives to take over his company when his reign as one of the world’s top designers comes to a close.

“I understand that eventually I will have to pass things on,” Armani told a crowd of reporters and admirers here, where he will be presenting the fall collections of both Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani.

“I am already organizing an entire team around me who understands what I do and will be, at some point, ready to step in and continue what I do,” he said. “Of course, I am not eternal. There comes a time when you must hand it over.”

The 75-year-old designer, looking tan but thin after an attack of hepatitis this summer, has long kept mum on his plans to choose a successor to the fashion empire he built. He continued that line on Tuesday, asking the crowd: “I don’t look bad yet, do I?”

Retirement was not yet on his mind, he said. “This is my life. No one can step away from their life.”

Armani was in Moscow to promote his collections in a market that has been ravaged by the global economic crisis.

Sitting in the gilded halls of GUM, the landmark shopping center on Red Square, Armani said he had faith in the Russian market. He is the first major designer to visit the Russian capital since the economic crisis hit last fall.

“Few capital cities have made the impression on me that Moscow has,” he said. “There’s a strength here, an energy, a great potential.”

Designers like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen shuttered their Moscow stores at the start of the crisis, as luxury retail sales fell by more than 30 percent. Armani has had a presence on the Russian market since 2002, when the designer first visited Moscow to open a flagship.

John Hooks, Armani’s deputy general manager who was recently appointed deputy chairman of the board, said the global markets appeared to give signs of recovery in recent weeks, but it was too soon for optimism. “It’s still tough,” he said. (Among others recently promoted at Armani, effective Jan. 1, are Gianni Gerbotto, who has taken on board responsibility for financial management and investments, and Livio Proli, who will succeed Gerbotto as general manager of Armani.)

He detailed no plans to open new stores in Russia, which boasts two Giorgio Armani stand-alone shops, six Emporio Armani stores and 240 stockists around the country.

Russia, where a small sector of the population is known for its love of extravagant spending, represents 5 percent of Armani’s wholesale sales, compared with 10 to 11 percent in China, Hooks said, noting many Russian customers prefer to shop in Europe.

The company will open 40 to 50 stores worldwide in 2009, he said, and plans to execute a similar strategy in 2010, despite the crisis-led hit to profits.

Armani will present fall women’s wear and men’s wear for Emporio Armani at GUM on Tuesday night, and Giorgio Armani fall women’s wear and men’s wear on Thursday at the luxury Barvikha complex on Moscow’s outskirts.

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