By  on January 31, 2005

When Giorgio Armani staged a massive  fashion show in New York in October, it wasn’t an exclusive affair. He invited the general public to the show and said he was on a mission to “democratize” fashion.

“Naturally, I know that I’m going a bit against the rules in America, where there are nights reserved just for the VIPs and other nights where everyone is invited,” Armani said at the time, just before traveling to New York. “I think that I’ll be breaking the rules slightly.”

Broken the rules he has. Many industry titans, perhaps most famously Louis Vuitton and Gucci, have shunned the idea of second lines and product diversification. Reaching out to the masses is risky business, they claim. But Armani, who owns no fewer than five fashion labels, sees the sub-brands as an opportunity. In fact, some could argue, his exploitation of designer denim and T-shirts has actually aggrandized his iconic stature.

Back in the Eighties, Italian teenagers wore cropped jackets to show off the Armani logo eagles on their jeans’ back pockets. Today, Americans need look no farther than the nearest shopping mall with an A|X Armani Exchange to buy into designer cachet with a $34 tank top. Armani is one of the few names in high fashion to have a presence on the Milan catwalk as well as near the local Starbucks.

The trick has been to maintain status while making a piece of the dream accessible to a broader swath of consumers.

“He’s always wanted to reach out and give things to people according to what they can afford. So he’s got this profound democratic spirit himself,” said John Hooks, Armani’s commercial and marketing director. Hooks said preventing cannibalization is tricky, but the company has succeeded by using each brand to conquer a different market segment or retail channel.

“My job really is to be the sort of director of the orchestra. To make sure they all play in harmony and not against each other,” he said. “The message has to be clear to the consumer. Concentrate on Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani. The other lines…live off the reflected glory of those two.”

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