NEW YORK — While there’s no doubt that Giorgio Armani loves the runway, lately he’s been indulging one of his other passions: interior design.
The designer is reimagining his flagship at 760 Madison Avenue as part of a larger project that will include his Armani/Casa concept, all with a large experiential component, while his Emporio Armani Caffè e Ristorante in Milan is being completely renovated, including a new menu offering expanded meal services.
The four-level, 16,000-square-foot Manhattan flagship will be redeveloped by The Armani Group and property owner SL Green into a new 96,000-square-foot building composed of a two-story flagship and 19 luxury Armani/Casa residences designed by Giorgio Armani. The new building, with interiors also conceived by Armani, is scheduled to break ground in 2020 and is expected to be finished by 2023.
“New York is one of the world’s major fashion capitals and Madison Avenue is by definition an iconic luxury location,” Armani told WWD. “In the Eighties, when I opened my first Giorgio Armani boutique in Manhattan [at 815 Madison Avenue], I chose this exclusive and refined area because it was ideal for the contemporary elegance and attention to detail I wanted to communicate.
“This project continues the Armani/Casa Interior Design Studio I began over 10 years ago to find innovative, creative solutions through my ideas about luxury and refinement,” the designer said. “Interior design is a sort of couture for the home, the total realization of my lifestyle vision, designed around the person. It’s one of the most important extensions of my global style design. I’ve always given great importance to one’s living place, which reflects totally our spirit and sensibility.”
Armani, who’s had a long-distance love affair with Manhattan, plans to occupy one of the residences himself. “New York is a city I’m particularly fond of,” he said. “As the epitome of luxury, Madison Avenue perfectly lends itself to a project of this scale. Today, more than 30 years later, I still believe that this place reflects my philosophy and my aesthetic vision. That’s why I wanted to propose such an innovative project through which I can fully express my idea of dressing and living.”
One of the project’s challenges was creating a flagship even as retail itself is changing and trying to adapt to consumers’ shifting needs. “Mr. Armani was thinking of how to double down on the experience,” said Rick Cook, principal at Cookfox, architect for the project. “It’s the heart of the project. He was not only rethinking the flagship, but making it more than a store and taking it to world. The entire apartment building will be under Mr. Armani’s vision, a kind of experiential lifestyle. The flagship for the next generation will be on the first two floors and he’ll have a larger experience of what the Armani vision could bring to residences.”
Cookfox’s design reflects the Armani brand’s evolution within its location in the Upper East Side Historic District. For him, restraint was very important. Restraint simplicity and balance. It was more of an editing process. We originally had an asymmetric building,” Cook said, adding that it didn’t pass muster. “The goal was to have it be fairly familiar to loyal customers. Every move we made was a dialogue [with the neighborhood]. Mr. Armani’s representative would meet us and take our sketches to Mr. Armani. Sometimes Mr. Armani would sketch over what we sent. He made his comments very clear.
With Armani/Casa, the designer aims to adapt his aesthetic to residential projects that reflect and relate to their locations, rather than “impose my view on urban landscapes. My love for essential lines, luxury materials and Italian handicraft are the unifying elements. The rest is spirit of place. The bricks and limestone of the Madison Avenue project fit perfectly within the context of the surrounding architecture, while the terraces will create a surprising effect. I wouldn’t use the same solutions elsewhere.”
While the flagship will encompass only the first two floors of the new building, the designer said, “In terms of size, the Giorgio Armani boutique will be similar to the existing one, but it will feature more functional sales floors and a more fluid and contemporary style. The main feature of the project is that the building becomes multifunctional.”
Marc Holliday, chief executive officer of SL Green Realty Corp., who spearheaded the redevelopment of 760 Madison Avenue, said the “project is ensuring the continued Giorgio Armani presence on Madison Avenue which isn’t only great for the neighborhood, it gives confidence to retailers on the block or those looking to come on to the block. They’re [Armani] really taking a leadership role here.”
Madison Avenue has struggled with declining rents and high vacancies since the 2008 recession. Leasing activity picked up a bit in the fall with Balenciaga opening a store at 610-620 Madison Avenue in the spring, Celine unveiling a store at 650 Madison Ave. and Sergio Rossi recently signed a long-term lease at No. 680.
“We see within our portfolio a lot of retail activity,” Holliday said. “It’s putting rents reflective to where the market is. There’s a lot of demand. Our portfolio is 95 percent or greater leased. It’s just a matter of having the right product at the right price. When we do that, there’s retailers out there.”
Giorgio Armani and SL Green didn’t always have such a friendly relationship. Armani in 2015 sued the landlord over an alleged illegal scheme to squeeze the designer out of its below-market rent sublease with annual rent of $3.5 million. Armani signed the initial sublease in 1995, and in 2011 executed a lease extension through 2025.
Armani was granted a temporary restraining order to stay in the space during the litigation. A New York State judge ordered Armani to pay $3.5 million rent due under the sublease and not the $10.5 million SL Green wanted. Nor was the landlord’s demand for $83 million for missing the market and lost opportunity damages enforced. In the end, Armani signed a new lease and agreed to pay $13.5 million in rent per year through 2024.
“There might have been some initial legacy disputes when we acquired property in 2012,” Holliday said. “That’s something that has no bearing on the partnership we’ve had with Armani since.”
“The dispute with SL Green was in 2015, and we came to an agreement quickly thereafter,” Armani said. “During this time, it was clear that both sides had a common interest for a greater opportunity for the Madison Avenue location.”
The designer demurred on the subject of upcoming retail and/or hospitality projects, saying only, “In the near future, we plan to open new stores in international locations, but they will be announced nearer to the time [of opening].”
His other big undertaking is closer to home. The Emporio Armani Caffè e Ristorante in Milan, with its dramatic, if somewhat dated interiors, featuring shiny black and red surfaces, is undergoing a radical re-do. Closed since May, it will reopen next month during the women’s fall shows. The Caffè originally bowed in 2000 inside what was then a new concept store on Via Manzoni that featured different elements of the Armani lifestyle.
Now, the cafe’s layout and interiors are being “completely restyled,” the designer said. “The new project enhances the location with a more fluid and enveloping atmosphere. Through a new contemporary concept, I wanted to highlight the versatility of this meeting place, a feature that will characterize all future restaurants.”
The cuisine is getting a once-over, too; a new menu is being crafted to offer an experience that will extend from morning to evening, and will also be open for dinner service.
Armani has been working on hospitality projects since 2004, when the first partnership agreement for hotels and resorts was signed with The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which opened in 2010. Since then, Armani/Casa has been to Istanbul, Mumbai, Beijing, London, Miami, Manila and Tel Aviv.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t design with a specific target in mind,” Armani said. “Rather, I simply focus on what I’m interested in at that time and the way I want to express myself through clothes, furniture and environments. I have a specific taste and a deep sense of consistency, which is never rigid. I’m curious. I love challenges. This drives me to renew myself and evolve my aesthetics without betraying their nature.”
In a world obsessed with speed, the designer said he balances tradition and technology by “combining artisan culture and innovation capable of enriching and enhancing the value of the final product. Undoubtedly, modern technologies can speed up processes and simplify time-consuming procedures, but the importance of craftsmanship should always come first, and Armani/Casa exemplifies this concept perfectly.”
Armani added that he takes the time to maintain his standards “by checking every detail, as with all aspects of my world.”