MILAN — The first A|X Armani Exchange flagship in Milan opens Monday, more than 30 years after the first store for the brand opened in New York in 1991 — and it promises to be the biggest and most representative unit in Europe.
“Every project that pertains to Milan has a special meaning for me,” said Giorgio Armani. “My world does not have boundaries, but its center is here. This opening represents an important step in the history of the Armani Group and in the evolution of A|X Armani Exchange.”
The inclusive spirit of the brand is emphasized by the choice of the popular location, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, between the Duomo cathedral and Piazza San Babila, which Armani defined as “the perfect location” as it attracts customers of different generations, “a heterogeneous public by age, provenance and inclinations.”
The designer defined A|X Armani Exchange as a label that has “always been in sync with the world of young people and the most dynamic of the brands in our portfolio.”
He expressed pride in the store, “not only because it is the biggest among those opened in Europe but because it reflects our constant dialogue with people, which is something dear to me today more than ever. Atemporality for me is important as is inclusion, which here is fully realized.”
The store has a strong visual impact, placed on the corner of a storied building designed by Giò Ponti with a facade characterized by three large windows, one of which has an undulating surface. Designed by Armani and his team of architects, the store covers two levels over more than 5,000 square feet. Oak strips are a distinctive element on the walls, where a black LED runs throughout with graphic information and the logo.
Giuseppe Marsocci, deputy managing director and chief commercial officer of the Armani Group, said this was “the perfect moment” to open in Milan. “A|X has come a long way” following the designer’s decision in 2014 to take full control of the brand, making it “one of the pillars of the Armani universe.” In 2014, the group acquired the remaining 50 percent of A|X that he did not already own in the venture with Como Holdings Inc.
Called Presidio Holdings Ltd., with Christina Ong and her husband, Ong Beng Seng, Armani’s longtime business partners and the licensees of the A|X Armani Exchange brand, the deal was first signed in 2005. Since the buy-back in 2014, Armani fully revised the brand, as products are now entirely planned and developed in Milan “and the design reflects the Armani attitude, without sacrificing the accessibility of price,” Marsocci said.
The store opening points to the growing importance of the brand in the European market, continued the executive. “Also in terms of aesthetics, this is the right moment for the growth of the business, because what seemed to be a niche style, for young but demanding consumers, has become over the years a way of being trans-generational and international. This makes the A|X market large and diversified. Milan is the epicenter of the Armani system, so also at a symbolic level it’s important to have our biggest European store here.”
In 2017, Armani unveiled a new brand strategy for the group, revealing his decision to cease the Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans brands and use only the Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and A|X Armani Exchange names starting with the spring 2018 season. Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans were blended into those three main lines.
Asked why he thought Armani selected A|X, Marsocci said “the rationalization of the offer is based on a precise segmentation” of the group’s markets. “A|X allows us to place us at an entry level of our portfolio in a premium price positioning with a product that is strong in design and attractive for a wide generation of customers. It allows us to be democratic, and this has always been Mr. Armani’s approach to fashion.”
The repositioning shifted the label toward a more premium segment, while remaining accessible. “The diversification for us is mandatory,” Marsocci said.
The brand reports yearly sales close to 500 million euros and Marsocci said the performance of A|X was stronger in 2021 compared with 2020 but also compared with 2019, before the pandemic hit.
Today A|X operates globally through all its distribution channels with a network of around 2,850 points of sale, of which 347 are monobrand stores, partly directly operated and partly via franchises. Wholesale is also very important, Marsocci said.
New stores recently opened in Tokyo and Cologne, Germany. After Milan, units are planned to open in Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin and London’s Regent Street. In North America, the company opened a Metrotown store in Burnaby, British Columbia, in November, and new units in Aventura, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz., in December.
Business is well-consolidated in the U.S. and in Europe, which represents half of the global business, where Italy plays an important role. Marsocci said the company is considering opportunities in Asia.
A|X Armani Exchange was a pioneer in online communication and retailing, launching its Armaniexchange.com site in 1995 and adding online sales in 1997.
Sweatshirts, knits and T-shirts are pillars of the brand, as are pullovers. “Since we internalized the design, outerwear has become a growing category, in line with all the Armani world. Also, denim is becoming increasingly more important,” said Marsocci.
The brand is not planning a significant product extension but is strengthening both its footwear and accessories “to support the double-digit growth of those categories.” The only active licenses are for eyewear and watches, with Luxottica and Fossil, respectively.
The company launched a recruiting campaign, called “I Need You,” for the opening of the first Italian store and the initiative will continue for the opening of the brand’s first unit in Amsterdam. The sales force recruitment was unveiled online through social media and offline through postings in February, inviting anyone to take part in the open call on Feb. 21 and 22, building a community. The campaign is photographed by Alex Nawrocky.