MILAN — Giorgio Armani is shaking things up.
For the first time, the designer will hold a coed show for his signature line on the evening of Feb. 23 at Silos, the exhibition space he opened in 2015 — which is also a first after years of showing at his Teatro. A day earlier, his Emporio Armani Caffè & Ristorante, closed since May, will reopen after a complete makeover (the Emporio show will take place on Feb. 21).
A pioneer in the arena of designer food and hospitality, Armani felt it was time to revisit the location, which opened in 2000, and move on from a graphic setting to a warmer atmosphere. As reported, he is also reimagining his flagship at 760 Madison Avenue in Manhattan as part of a larger residential project in a new 96,000-square-foot building composed of a two-story flagship and 19 luxury residences designed by Armani. The building, with interiors also conceived by him, is scheduled to break ground in 2020 and is expected to be finished by 2023.
Interior design is not the only area Armani, who is also chairman of his fashion group, has been reevaluating. In 2017, he revealed he was planning to focus on the Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and Armani Exchange labels, effective with the spring 2018 season. In this context, the Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans brands have been integrated and merged into the Emporio Armani and Armani Exchange lines, respectively. Of this re-branding, Armani said, “It is interesting to note that the public naturally accepts change.”
The revamped Emporio Armani Caffè and Ristorante, which includes a new menu and longer hours late into the evening, is one example of how Armani is investing in the group, which had 2017 revenues of 2.33 billion euros and a cash pile of 1 billion euros earmarked for expenditures on his brands.
While the exterior of the building, which includes the Armani Hotel and the Emporio Armani megastore, has not been altered, there is an additional second outdoor dining area.
Conceived by the designer himself, the interiors were inspired by style elements of the Thirties — a reference to the building’s birth date — but the influences aren’t literal.
The café is located on the ground floor, where main features include champagne-toned lacquered wood elements; the fabric of the wall panels, in a specially developed iridescent blue-green shade, which recalls the bottle-green of the floor’s large slabs that have a “sown” effect, outlined in champagne metal, and colorful and slightly padded chairs in blue, green or red fabric.
A striking, winding dark green and gold staircase leads to the restaurant on the upper floor open for lunch and dinner, with a Champagne bar reception area at the entrance. The kitchen is visible through glass embellished with a gradient frosted effect. The two floors are linked by the same bold design, but the restaurant is presented in softer shades of blue-gray and dusty sage-green. The walls are upholstered in elegant silk fabric and match the green floors with its champagne-colored frames. Tables are separated by small glass screens embellished with a delicate palm tree motif, one of the staple and recognizable patterns of the Armani/Casa collection. There is also a small room at the back with a large dark marble fireplace that can be reserved for private occasions.
While aiming at an international clientele, it’s no secret Armani himself favors Mediterranean cuisine, which is reflected in the menu that includes staples ranging from saffron risotto to spaghetti with tomatoes and veal Milanese.
Here, Armani exclusively discusses with WWD why he chose Silos for his upcoming show, how 2019 “began well on all fronts,” and how Milan “has a new energy.”
WWD: In January you spoke of creating “an atmosphere” for the runway shows, and in particular for the next show at the Silos, elevating fashion to a higher and more elegant level. Is there a way to further elaborate on this?
Giorgio Armani: A runway show is primarily the result of months of work, it is a time for reflection and, at the same time, a way of telling of an experience. It is above all a test, one which I always face with great emotion. I want it to always be a very natural and engaging show for my guests, never predictable.
And I think today it is fundamental to offer spectators a visual narrative that is brimming in atmosphere, and that reflects my concept of elegance. This is what I have been doing with Armani Privé recently, and it’s what I now want to do with the Giorgio Armani fashion show at the Silos; it will be an elegant and striking context for the new collections, both men’s wear and women’s wear.
WWD: What do you have in mind for the next runway show?
G.A.: For me, clothes play the starring role in a runway show. So I do not expect something sensational, in terms of staging — I’m not keen on that kind of distraction. What I have in mind is a more intimate show, highlighted by the meticulous arrangement of spaces, where the special and unique value of the garments is appreciated, and can be observed closely. This will be in a different space, after several years, with the audience seated in different “rooms” of the gallery, but with a modern spirit.
WWD: Why do you think the Silos is the right space for this first coed show, after so many seasons of fashion shows at the Teatro?
G.A.: I chose the Silos because it is a place that represents me, it’s a part of my world that contains my story and reflects my aesthetic. I conceived it as a meeting place, that would be alive and dynamic, capable of grasping the evolution of the times and the changing of cultures, a true landmark destination for Milan. The space also has a powerful architectural element, a narrative force. Uniting this male and female world within this space is natural and effective.
WWD: The building is spread over several floors; how do you intend to present the collection?
G.A.: The space has a very unique layout, with a shape that is reminiscent of a beehive. And this offers new staging possibilities compared to the Armani/Teatro. But I shall not reveal any more, so as not to spoil the surprise.
WWD: And why did you choose to present men’s wear and women’s wear together for this season?
G.A.: I like to experiment, and the “coed” formula is ideal right now because I want to show the completeness and the multifaceted aesthetics of the Armani universe with renewed vigor. I want the message to be clear and unambiguous, despite the differences between men and women. And I think the Silos — a place that houses the permanent collection of my work, for men’s and women’s clothing — is the perfect setting for this.
WWD: Doesn’t it worry you that the men’s collection may be overshadowed by the women’s range?
G.A.: Of course, the risk is always there. But there is a great deal of synergy between the Giorgio Armani men’s wear and women’s wear collections; there always has been. And what emerges is the complementary nature of the two worlds, the integration of two visions that are born from the same idea of style.
WWD: Apart from the Emporio show last September at Linate airport, is this the first evening show? Why did you opt for an evening event?
G.A.: There have been other evening shows — notably the One Night Only events that have been held around the world. I don’t think in a schematic way, and I have no prejudices about the time of day. But an evening show has a different vibe, it’s very involving.
WWD: How do you see 2019?
G.A.: The year began well, on all fronts. We recently announced a major project for the Giorgio Armani boutique on Madison Avenue. In the next few days the Emporio Armani Caffè & Ristorante will reopen in Milan, with a makeover and important new developments.
WWD: Can you tell us anything about the re-branding strategy? How is that going?
G.A.: Obviously it’s a time-consuming process, but the re-branding strategy is working well, especially in terms of rationalization of the collections and therefore the message. It is interesting to note that the public naturally accepts change. As a matter of fact I’ve always promoted the idea of a complete world, and a global vision. With the redefinition of the brand portfolio we’ve managed to consolidate the lines in order to make things simpler, without any disruption to the relationship with our customers.
WWD: Regarding the Emporio Armani Caffè and restaurant, what were the guidelines for the new décor?
G.A.: I wanted a place that would be comprehensive, welcoming and versatile, suitable for any time of day, including the evening. Nowadays we live increasingly outside the home, and I think that a fluid venue, which is aimed at a transverse audience, brings significant added value.
WWD: What kind of atmosphere would you like to create?
G.A.: The layout of the room and the color choice create an elegant and contemporary atmosphere, less evidently graphic and urban than in the past. But I don’t want to provide a homely environment, rather I want to give a pleasant feeling of warmth, with neutral colors infused with pops of color — red, green and blue — and soft, harmonious lines.
WWD: How has your approach evolved from the first opening?
G.A.: The Emporio Armani Caffè is an experiment that began more than 20 years ago. It was an adventure I would call almost pioneering, because food was not in fashion back then, but I thought that it could become so. During difficult times, I chose to bring my vision of style to other areas, beyond fashion; I envisaged a whole way of life based on an idea of natural elegance and sophistication. This approach has not changed, it’s the same hallmark I apply to everything I do.
But I have reviewed the formula of the Caffé and the arrangement of the spaces, changing the design and adding a second outdoor seating area to the existing one while respecting the architectural context. Alongside these added developments is a new gastronomic element, and extended opening hours; the venue will be open from the morning until late in the evening. Since its inauguration in 2000, the Emporio Armani Caffè in Milan has been a landmark destination for the Milanese. The new space — expanded and redesigned — further strengthens my bond with the city.
WWD: What’s new in terms of interior design, colors and materials?
G.A.: Glossy black dominated at the beginning. Now I have moved on to warmer, softer hues. Progress has been natural, you can improve and fix a suit during the tailoring process, in the workshop. A concrete setting, however, is improved over time, by seeing how it is used, observing the customers, how the destination evolves and the interaction between clientele and venue.
WWD: Why did you decide to stay open for dinner?
G.A.: I wanted to be a part of the vital flow of Milanese night life, but in my own way. The Armani Hotel, with bar and restaurant, and Nobu are all in the same block. With the new Emporio Armani Caffè & Ristorante I have expanded the offering with a venue that is more relaxed, but equally sophisticated. The ability to differentiate what I offer while always maintaining consistent taste is undoubtedly one of the keys to my success.
WWD: Have you seen an increase in business in the evening in Milan compared to the past? Will evening opening of the Emporio Armani restaurant bring traffic to the Privé club?
G.A.: Milan in the evening is more vibrant, much more so than in the past. Especially after Expo 2015 — since then, the city feels like it has a new energy, and this is in part expressed through more opportunities for nightlife. Certainly the Privé Club will benefit from the Caffè’s new opening hours, but the flow is in both directions.
WWD: Several fashion brands are increasingly eyeing the hospitality sector. What is your opinion on this?
G.A.: I was among the first to become involved in this sector. I explored a possibility, by applying the same principles to a new field as I have always employed with my fashion, adapting them to a major and rewarding challenge. The world of hospitality is perfect for representing style as a lifestyle and engaging the consumer in a personal and unique experience. I think it’s one of the businesses that will be targeted by fashion in the near future, because it’s lively and enveloping. At the same time, however, it is also a very demanding industry, and the most important aspect of this sector is the quality of service. During my career I have met people who have understood this lesson well, and they taught me a lot; Nobu Matsuhisa, for example, with whom I opened Nobu Milan in 2000, and the Burj Khalifa Dubai team, where I opened my first Armani Hotel in 2010.
WWD: Why do you think this is happening?
G.A.: Fashion has now become a 360-degree business, and for many years companies working in the field have been seeking new ways to diversify. At the same time, customers are looking for experiences that involve them, and are not only interested in fashion firms for the clothes they offer; forward-thinking brands took note of this a long time ago. In the virtual era, there is a hunger for things to experience in the real world, and a hotel is certainly a great way to satisfy this desire. However, entry into this sector can be a risky undertaking if the fashion brand is not strong enough and does not have a clear, translatable vision.
WWD: How have things changed since the launch of Armani/Casa?
G.A.: Things have changed tremendously. Since I launched Armani/Casa in 2000, many fashion brands have ventured into interior design. The reason I started my collection was that I had an absolutely clear idea of what Armani interiors would look like, and how I could express my aesthetic of elegance and restraint through furniture and furnishings. It seemed like the most natural next move, a logical extension of my design philosophy. Armani/Casa today has even become an interior design studio for the complete creation of residential units in various cities, from Miami to Istanbul, from Mumbai to Manila, from Tel Aviv to Beijing and from London to New York, where we plan to redesign a historic building on Madison Avenue. The Armani/Casa collection now has more than 40 stores worldwide, and the largest flagship in Corso Venezia in Milan.
WWD: Which objectives and goals do you have in mind for this brand?
G.A.: Armani/Casa is the piece of the puzzle that completes my vision of what it means to be a designer. Decorating spaces gives me a sense of permanence of style that I find particularly satisfying. My objectives are to consolidate my furnishing ranges, and at the same time to expand the offering from my interior design studio. I want my idea of lifestyle to become unequivocal, complete. And this is precisely the direction the new Madison Avenue project is taking; it marks an important stage of my journey into interior design. The new building will be entirely redesigned and, in addition to the new Giorgio Armani boutique, it will include luxury residential units.
WWD: Are there additional hotels in the pipeline?
G.A.: Indeed, there are some projects in progress, but it is too early to reveal any details.