MILAN — By differentiating his stable of brands from early on in his career, Giorgio Armani was typically ahead of the times in luxury by democratizing his offer and expanding the reach of his label.
The designer this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of Emporio Armani — a brand that has been through several iterations but that remains key to his business strategy. Armani underscores he spoke of inclusion with Emporio when the message was not a recurring one, and the fact that he opened his first Emporio store in Milan in 1981 — before his Giorgio Armani flagship in the city in 1982, points to the meaning the brand has always had for him.
Over the years, the Emporio Armani image was tweaked from that of a younger diffusion line to that of a trendier, more fashion-oriented complement to the top-tier Giorgio Armani line. The Emporio brand survived the restructuring and streamlining of brands Armani initiated in 2017, when he decided to cease the Armani Collezioni and Armani Jeans brands and use only the Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and A|X Armani Exchange names.
In this milestone year, the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo brought an extra dose of attention to the EA7 Emporio Armani collections, which were worn by the Italian teams, whose athletes won 40 and 69 medals, respectively.
Armani is marking the anniversary with a series of events on Thursday, including the men’s and women’s show for spring at the Armani/Teatro, and ranging from hosting the exhibition “The Way We Are” at the Armani/Silos to the launch of a special issue of the Emporio Armani Magazine. Billboards celebrating the date will appear on the mural in Via Broletto in Milan and in other key venues in the city. The company will also customize bus and tram shelters throughout the city, at the main stations in Milan and Rome and at the Malpensa airport.
Here, Armani, without nostalgia, discusses the past, present and future of the brand which, like his company, he believes should remain firmly independent.
WWD: The title “The Way We Are” looks at the present, not at the past. Do you believe the exhibition is not only a representation of the brand’s past through the years but it is also a reflection on its values today?
Giorgio Armani: The exhibition is imagined as a manifesto. It’s not a retrospective, but an affirmation of values — openness, inclusion, cultural mix, the elimination of gender barriers, which have characterized the brand since the very beginning. For me this anti-nostalgic aspect is fundamental, and I have wanted to keep it and emphasize it in this exhibition, which is inclusive and is an active experience and not only contemplative.
WWD: What prompted you to launch Emporio Armani 40 years ago? Who were you targeting and why did you think it was the right time?
G.A.: In that fateful 1981 I looked around me. There was buzz, a carefree mood and a desire to take action. Young people were emerging on the scene and gaining independence, but had little to wear that really represented them. The market gap was evident, and I thought I would insert myself in that gap. The response was immediate, overwhelming. The name Emporio suggested the idea of a place full of surprises, where everyone could enter easily and find something. The eagle was the symbol of flying high, of a lack of borders, of open horizons. When the political engagement was over, it became a symbol in which a community could recognize itself. I looked at similar experiences, such as Fiorucci, for example, but I injected the idea of the cult of the brand, which was starting to emerge at that moment.
WWD: In 2017 you decided to introduce a new strategy, streamlining your group’s portfolio of brands, but you maintained Emporio Armani, clearly a sign of confidence in the label. What was the reasoning behind the move?
G.A.: It was not only a sign of confidence in the brand, but I was certain that the free identity of Emporio was necessary to balance the Armani world. I’ve always believed in a careful diversification, and in Emporio I could channel the more transversal product, maintaining my style. Emporio is the instinct, while Giorgio Armani is the reason: both are indispensable.
WWD: How do you think Emporio has evolved in the years?
G.A.: The brand has very much evolved, finding an expanded design offer and larger public. Emporio Armani today is extremely varied, in accordance with the times, which have changed. Youth today is not a question of age, as much as a sensation, a way of being. So Emporio continues to be a container brand, in which everyone can find something. The spirit is free, metropolitan and dynamic.
WWD: How would you describe the typical Emporio Armani customer?
G.A.: Anyone using clothes to express themselves. I don’t necessarily see this customer as a fashionista but definitely someone with a strong personality. And again, ageless.
WWD: How did you want to structure the exhibition? What did you want to emphasize more? How did you choose the outfits, the light and so on?
G.A.: Thematic rooms rotate around an installation that has a strong impact. Each summarizes a main element of Emporio: the dialogue between the men’s and women’s wardrobes, for example, or Milan and the metropolitan cities in the world, or the magazine. For each room I chose images or clothes that would exalt the concept. It’s a vibrant and engaging visual weave, which finds its conclusion in a mood board room, entirely mirrored, which is the kaleidoscopic summary of everything.
WWD: How did you feel when organizing the exhibition? I imagine you have many memories linked to the brand, but is there one in particular that you would like to share?
G.A.: The organization has been a gripping path, during which I have reconsidered ideas and outfits, once again finding confirmation of the intrinsic consistency that marks my style. Many memories resurfaced, naturally, for example, thinking of the impact that the big mural on Via Broletto has had on Milan, which quickly caught attention and I believe also some admiration. Many of these memories include Leo [Dell’Orco] and [Armani’s niece] Silvana, who have been by my side for many years and to whom I owe a lot. Silvana works on the women’s collections with me, always in an open exchange and also accepting my opinions when I disagree with her, and Leo is my right hand. What I appreciate the most in his personality, in addition to his loyalty, is the ability to make even the hardest moments extremely light.
WWD: You are investing a lot in the communication of this anniversary, not only with the magazine but also with the billboards. What message do you want to send to the public?
G.A.: The message is one of inclusion: it was at the time and it is today. I take credit for an idea that is today very common. And I say once again that the idea of strong communication is for Emporio a natural amplification of the values of the brand. It has always been so, since the times of the magazine, working with my sister Rosanna on it. She was the one who proposed it and I immediately accepted. Rosanna worked on this issue, too, in addition to the advertising campaign.
WWD: Are you also relying on digital communication?
G.A.: Certainly. Today it could not be any different, and on Instagram in particular.
WWD: How much does Emporio Armani account for in terms of sales out of the total?
G.A.: Around a third of sales derived directly by all our sales channels. With the Junior, Underwear and EA7, the Emporio Armani world represents around half of our total sales [1.6 billion euros in 2020, or including licensing revenues, 3.3 billion euros].
WWD: Are you planning the opening of other Emporio Armani stores in the short term?
G.A.: After having recently opened in Linate and Barcelona we are planning several openings in China and North America.
WWD: What are the main markets for the brand?
G.A.: Especially Europe and Asia, but also the U.S. which are in a phase of great recovery.
WWD: How many Emporio Armani stores are there in the world?
G.A.: More than 250 globally.
WWD: You mark 40 years of Emporio under the umbrella of an independent company. This has always been a cornerstone for you. Is it still so?
G.A.: Yes, as a man and an entrepreneur, independence for me remains indispensable, today more than ever. It continues to be a conscious choice that allows me to move in a faster and more flexible way. I have always followed my own path and I will continue to do so.