By  on February 20, 2002

MILAN -- Armani Collezioni is in rollout mode -- and a firmly independent Giorgio Armani couldn't be happier.

A very upbeat Armani presented the newest Armani Collezioni flagship here Monday and enthused about the new direction of the collection. The 13,000-square-foot store, located on Milan's fashionable Via Montenapoleone, is the largest Collezioni store in the world. "With this boutique, we are launching a new retail concept and clearly differentiating the Armani Collezioni from the Borgonuovo line," said Armani.

The designer is also opening a Collezioni boutique in Frankfurt, Germany, this week and another one next month in Paris, on Avenue George V, where Armani is mulling the idea of opening a restaurant as well. In addition to these, there are seven Collezioni stores in the world, of which four are franchised.

The expansion of Collezioni represents further proof of a revitalized Armani, who 18 months ago was flirting with selling his firm and retiring from fashion. Now he's glad he didn't sell and seems more engaged than ever.

"I am happier than a year ago," Armani said. "At the time, I decided to turn down very flattering offers for my company and now I am happy I did it -- also considering what has happened in the meantime to other groups. This weekend, I was here checking the lights; this is my job and my life."

Armani described Collezioni as a "contemporary line; clothes that you can wear daily, all day-long, aimed at a very heterogeneous clientele." Collezioni is priced 20 percent lower than the Borgonuovo line, which the designer described as his "expensive toy, a more creative and sophisticated line."

Collezioni replaces the former Mani line, which was discontinued two years ago.

It is produced in-house by Armani: the women's division by Antinea and the men's collection by Trimil, the company's joint venture with Ermenegildo Zegna.

"This is a totally changed line in terms of product, quality and image," said Armani of Collezioni. "Mani was sort of an exploitment of the Armani ideas, a surrogate which I designed with my left hand," said the designer.Armani emphasized the importance of the site of the store, which was previously located in Via Durini -- where the designer is now thinking of placing an Armani Casa store. "Via Montenapoleone attracts tourists from all over the world, and this location was a must for us," said the designer.

Armani invested $1.5 million in renovating the store, which previously housed the Les Copains and Mila Schon boutiques. The designer declined to reveal the total investment on the property, which is rented, and the cost of the "buonuscita" -- literally "good exit," a sum paid from the new renter to the one leaving which could reach as much as $138 per square foot if the space is more than 1,000 square feet -- usually required in that part of the city.

The open-space boutique was designed by Armani and architect Claudio Silvestrin. Armani said he wanted a "less intimidating" setup, as compared to his signature line boutiques. Accordingly, the store is airy and luminous: sandblasted stainless steel panels contrast with Brazilian wood displays, white walls and glass backdrops lit from the ceiling. "We've done a lot of research on the lights, which play an important role, and never heat up the room," said Armani. "The light is very natural, so that clothes have the same color inside and outside the store."

Armani said that there is a special emphasis on the accessories: On one wall, the designer reproduced the same display used at the Guggenheim exhibition in the fall of 2000 to highlight the line's accessories. In addition to this category, the store displays the Collezioni men's and women's collections, fragrances and sunglasses.

Armani said that during the first Saturday after the opening, the store made about $44,000. The Collezioni boutique will be officially inaugurated with a cocktail party on March 4, during the Milan women's ready-to-wear shows. That day has been dubbed "the Armani day" here because of the four Giorgio and Emporio shows, the cocktail party and a party at the new Armani headquarters in Via Bergognone that evening. "I want to show both lines during the same day because I hope the the differences between the two lines will stand out -- although I know I will lose a day of coverage on the dailies," said Armani, who was clearly enjoying himself fielding questions.On March 4, the designer will also introduce "Armani backstage", a book and an exhibition of portraits by Roger Hutchings depicting Armani at work behind the scenes. Hutchings, a war photographer who covered the Bosnia conflict, photographed the designer last October, while he was preparing his spring fashion show. The exhibition will be held in the designer's theater in Via Bergognone and will run from March 6 to 10. "With stores in the golden triangle, between Via Spiga, Sant'Andrea and Montenapoleone, and my Emporio mega-store in Via Manzoni, I'm thinking of expanding in other streets -- perhaps an Armani Jeans store in Corso Vercelli [about 10 minutes away]"

"A hotel is still my dream, although it's quickly becoming a trend, and that makes me want it less. In any case, a hotel should not be too much about exasperated design."

On Italy's Chamber of Fashion and putting together a fashion calendar: "I would like to deal with the problems at the head of the Chamber at the end of my career as a creative mind. For the time being, I don't want to be part of an organization where the ideas are not clear, also if I feel bad about it." Armani was part of the Chamber until 10 years ago.

On entertainment stores: "They are fine by me, but what happens if they are all about entertainment and nobody actually buys the clothes?"

On Italians: "We love whatever is foreign and we are not able to enhance our qualities. We should give a hand to Italian fashion and protect it."

"People are ready to buy fashion again and start living once more, leaving this crisis behind. I think it will take at least a year for business to pick up in the U.S. Our higher-priced collections fared better -- that range is not suffering."

On designer Roberto Cavalli, who shows on "Armani day": "He is a brave designer and his style is very different from mine. It will be a good contrast."

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