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MILAN — With its prime location and sprawling floor space, Giorgio Armani’s new megastore on Via Montenapoleone is meant to serve one purpose: sell.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It had become a must for us to be on this street, with a store that is functional and where the product stands out,” said the designer, in his typical no-nonsense way.

Armani himself designed the 21,600-square-foot store’s new concept, which may be extended to the new 47,000-square-foot Madison Avenue flagship opening in New York early next year, with a number of site-specific elements. “Stores need to be rational, they must work,” said Armani. “Sure, there are stores that make the cover of architectural magazines, but then must be changed to be more operative.”

Armani was careful not to dismiss the work of architects, whom he called “decorators,” such as Massimiliano Fuksas, who worked with him on the Armani Tower in Tokyo and is preparing the Fifth Avenue megastore. However, the designer stressed the need to operate stores that are not only about design and proportions.

The Via Montenapoleone flagship is currently the biggest Giorgio Armani unit in the world and replaces an Armani Collezioni store that will be relocated with a new concept on Corso Venezia, another central shopping street with stores like D&G.

Covering 21,600 square feet over three levels, the Giorgio Armani store is located in the stately, historical 16th century Palazzo Taverna, a building uniquely shaped as stylized tongs, with two entrances on Via Montenapoleone. Flanked by the Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton stores, the flagship boasts ceilings almost 15 feet high. The sense of vastness is enhanced by a central void running between the three stories.

Women’s accessories and ready-to-wear are located on the ground floor, together with the designer’s skin care and fragrances, including the new Onde scents, which will be officially launched in October. A section of the ground floor is also dedicated to products exclusively designed for the store, ranging from Oriental jackets and casual slacks meant as relaxing homewear to Armani Casa teapots, lamps and other home accessories, to clutches and footwear. The first floor displays men’s wear and men’s accessories, including the Classico and Su Misura lines. The Privé collection, eveningwear and more sophisticated accessories, including the Privé jewelry line and Giorgio Armani Borgo 21 watches, are available on the top floor.

Two design elements define the store: backlit, floor-to-ceiling, synthetic onyx panels, which also function as doors to the cabinets, and ribbed walls or displays in gray satin or lacquered black. “There’s irony in the expansion of the onyx pattern,” said Armani, adding he was inspired by his new boat, called Main, in the design of the store.

The restoration of the building and the need to maintain its original structure were a challenge, said Armani, adding he was pleased the building was “Milanese in every sense,” and that he worked to keep it that way, with a beige facade, purposefully discreet insignia with white on gray lettering, and understated windows.

“We need to maintain the allure of Via Montenapoleone, which sometimes is entirely lost through the use of aggressive photos and advertising,” said the designer. “I would be stricter in regulating [visuals] — if it were up to me,” said Armani, who also said he doesn’t envision this street as a pedestrians only — a much debated issue with many retailers here. “We should keep it alive as much as possible, with more activities in the evenings.”

John Hooks, the firm’s commercial and marketing director, said the company does not provide sales projections, nor did he disclose the investment in the building, which took a year of work. Discussing the general economy, Hooks said new stores help to maintain the company’s performance around the world. Case in point: Hooks said the Tokyo Ginza tower that opened in November 2007 has helped grow business in Japan. Armani opens an average of 40 stores a year. Two Emporio Armani stores opened in Beijing in July. In the fall, a Giorgio Armani boutique is slated to open in Beijing and another one in New Delhi.

“New things attract attention, and stimulate purchases, but I don’t think we should be forced to renovate every two years, we should look for a style that lasts,” said Armani.

Hooks said the company has seen a growth of between 2 and 3 percent in the first nine months of the year after a 2007 that saw profits rise 17 percent and sales by 8 percent.

Armani expressed wariness about opening his new megastore on Fifth Avenue in February — especially in light of the collapse of Lehman Brothers this week. “The [general] situation is horrible, and not reassuring, but we must not give up in times of crisis and show our solidity,” the designer said.

The company will rent out the space in Via Sant’Andrea where the Giorgio Armani boutique was previously placed. “The street has its charm, but we needed bigger spaces, it was a logical move,” said Armani.

On a different note, pressed by some reporters to express his opinion on the seasonal fashion week calendar, Armani said he avoids discussions with other designers. “I choose a date that is convenient for my brand,” he said, also addressing the issue of “Americans who want to take days from our week” and Italians complying without complaining. “Italian fashion is good quality fashion, and fashion that means business,” he said.

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