By  on January 31, 2005

He is fashion’s most commercially successful designer, his name is in the Interbrand charts alongside Coca-Cola and Microsoft as one of the world’s most recognizable brands, and as the sole owner of his almost $7 billion label, the only investor he has to answer to is himself.

But Giorgio Armani still refuses to believe he’s made it.

“Who is that guy over there?” he says, pointing to a framed oil painting of himself that’s propped on a mantelpiece in his sunny, ordered office on Via Borgnonuovo here. “Take it down. It belongs on the floor.”

For Armani, not much has changed since he opened his business in two small rooms on Corso Venezia 30 years ago with his best friend and business partner, the late Sergio Galeotti. “I always considered myself an employee — not a designer or a couturier,” says Armani, who often walks around his headquarters at the end of the day, shutting off the lights. “I like the idea of having built this beautiful empire, but I still like to think of myself as the stable boy.”

Long hours, a frugal mentality and a singular, stubborn vision stretching from how his clothes should look to how they should be manufactured, marketed and sold, have been Armani’s guiding forces over the past three decades.

Part of the famously tough and resourceful generation of Italians who grew up during World War II, Armani has rigidly stood by his philosophy of making sensible clothes that sell. On the design front, he’s offered everyone from office workers to Oscar-bound stars the opportunity to be elegant — and comfortable. On the business side, he created a structure that saw him take charge of every stage in the fashion process, from the sketching to the runway styling, the ad campaigns to the manufacturing.

“Only I know what I want. And my message has to be consistent from beginning to end,” says Armani, who has run his self-financed company with a tight fist for the last three decades.

Whether or not his style appeals, whether it has the power to set trends season after season, it has never failed to generate cash — or customer loyalty.

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