EXCERPTS FROM THE MAESTRO OVER A QUARTER-CENTURY OF DESIGNING.
Byline: Andre Leon Talley, May 1978 / Kevin Doyle, June 1992 / Sara Gay Forden, October 1994
Bigger shoulders give more allure and are more feminine. It’s less casual, but more elegant. When I thought of doing the big square shoulder, I asked myself, ‘What’s it worth?’ I build my reputation on making clothes that are very salable and very wearable, commercial, if you want. And I don’t just do runway looks in the collection. Everything is shown and shipped just as you see it in the show. Nothing is changed.
“That sudden retro style of exaggeration in Paris is amusing, but I think it difficult to sell and to wear. For Hollywood-style 1950, you have to be tall, thin and extremely beautiful. Everyone isn’t.
“Hollywood glamour 1950 isn’t my idea of modern. But I do find that in Paris there are designers who can take the value of retro style and build up an elegant collection….”
“What I don’t like is when American men try to dress in a very elegant way because they don’t know how. Americans that you normally see on the street look ridiculous when they try to wear a navy pinstriped suit with a satin tie. But American men have a certain innate elegance when they wear sportswear.
“American women follow fashion and thus they are quiet, elegant today. I find the idea of American elegance more international in feeling than what is considered Italian elegance on a broad scale. What is always shocking is that American women, even if they are not young, become so in the way they put themselves together.
“The feeling of youth is so much more amusing in America. It’s more ironic than in Italy. In America, the sports clothes [athletic gear] have details, a feeling for colors. When Italians do sportswear, it’s too serious. They even make uniforms look overdone,” states Armani, who did his version of “elegant military’ with feminine fabrics such as satin, taffeta and soft washed leather. “What I like are American army uniforms. They are the most beautiful in the world. They are simple yet they have interesting details and shape….
“The life of ballgowns and ballroom clothes is completely finished all over the world. And for evening clothes, there are plenty of creators who do that very, very well. For the moment, this problem of dress-up in the evening is a bit difficult for me….
“In life there are things I might need. And one is that I lack a great deal of time for private life. I love tennis, and I hardly have time. Perhaps I lack a true family, a wife and children. But I’ve made the choice to be a bachelor. I’m very egotistical, especially about my work. A wife and children would simply distract me from my work….
“My tastes are simple in life. I was born into a simple family, and I have worked very hard to have things like a pure gold shaving brush, among other things. My success hasn’t changed me. And you don’t see things like 17th, 18th, or 19th-century antiques or art in my house because it’s not me. As I wasn’t born an aristocrat, it’s useless to try and become one through fashion. I don’t want to be too distant from my roots. It’s only important to be modern in my work, and honest.”
Everyone knows me as a designer for a woman who’s sporty, who gets around, who works. But my private secret is to make things that are a kind of dream, things you don’t have in front of you every day. I’ve done lots of things that have nothing to do with that somewhat masculine spirit I’m known for, things with fantasy, even for day, but that no one really saw in my shows because it’s not what they came to see….”
“But when you have a big business, risk is dangerous — though necessary.
“But for me, now, we’ve gone beyond the limit. I’ve said it before and I repeat: I find this style an offense to an intelligent woman. It’s useless because no one wears it; it leads nowhere. It’s a little idiotic, because this is a business we have to run in fashion, a business where we propose things that will last in time — at least for a couple of years. This trend — it’s someone’s idea to make people talk about them….”
First on the list is his new perfume, Gio (pronounced “Joe”), coming to stores in Europe this fall. The fragrance, which Armani described as “not too strong or violent, resembling the past a little but with a modern note,” is only his second for women, and he characterizes its development as a “huge, hard job.”
“It costs a fortune to do,” he says. “And I pay a lot of attention because I don’t want to make a mistake on perfume — that would be very negative.”
Armani admits to being a bit vexed by the fragrance field, which is buzzing with new launches for the coming season.
“There are too many perfume names, just like ready-to-wear, and people don’t have the money to buy them; there’s this habit now to launch two or three perfumes from one name in a year, and it’s impossible.”
To promote Gio, the designer turned to director David Lynch, who has shot a commercial in black and white. Armani’s main task there, “because Lynch has very clear ideas, and you have to let him work,” was to choose the woman to be featured on film — “a woman who goes with the name.’
“It couldn’t be Yasmeen Ghauri, she’s so beautiful. And it’s not Claudia Schiffer; she’s so tied to the moment, maybe in a year she’ll be gone. The choice,” he concludes, referring to model Lara Harris, “was ambitious — not a classic beauty….”
“You can’t exaggerate basic,” he warns of the fashion world’s latest favorite word. “After all the extravagance, people want something clean and simple. But you can’t think that’s the reality forever, and that all the rest is nothing. In a year, people might have had enough of denim shirts and denim pants, and they’ll want something else. In fashion you can never say, ‘This thing is yes, that one is no, end of story.’ There’s always a mix of what’s on the way in and what’s on the way out.”
I promise myself every morning when I wake up and every morning when I go to sleep — to find the time. Unfortunately, I am on the front line. Even though I have excellent assistants, they are conditioned to having input and confirmation from me.”
“On a professional level, these years have flown by for me. It has been a crazy race, and 20 years are nothing when you consider all that we have created in that time.”
“You can ignore 40 years — you’re young, you still feel young — and 50 years is an important maturity point, but 60 is the right turning point to change something in your life, or to redo your psychological maquillage.”
“Well, it clearly is a moment that leaves a mark, various kinds of marks. A question mark: who knows what will come next? An exclamation mark: I’ve arrived! A period: Here I am. A colon: Here I am and here I go,” he laughs at the word game, his blue eyes lighting up with a sudden smile, though he never completely answers the question.
“Personally, physically, I feel incredibly young. I am full of strength, energy, motivation. And I’m a little more ironic about the world, about people — I’ve learned a few truths along the way that help me face problems with a little more perspective, and a lot more serenity. The further you go forward, the less you have to lose — things worry you less. I am more conscious of myself, of what I am doing.
“Before, I would do things almost without thinking. When you reach my age, you think before you act. Certainly, a man of my age is still young — but he can’t permit himself to do things without thinking them through. This is maturity, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
“I believe firmly in the value of a fashion show, in the advantage of a fashion show, both for the person who creates fashion and for the person who sees it. A fashion show gives you a precise sensation. But it is one thing to put on a fashion show and another thing to put on a spettacolo. I detest fashion when it becomes grotesque,” he says, the blue eyes growing icy.
“I ask myself, should I continue down my own path or should I pick the path of the latest trend, the flashiest innovation? To show women in HotPants and skirts up to here?+Which is the right path? I know which is the right path, it’s the path that gives you the final result in the store. The store tells you what is right.
“I have to convince myself that I may not be in the trend of the year, but I have to follow that path that confirms my ideas, my products.”
“Creativity in our profession is measured by how well you can filter an idea according to our age. If not, we’re just making costumes, and I don’t agree with that.”
“I am fundamentally a creative person — I have more to give. Why do I have to close myself in on a track that is too conservative?
“I don’t want to lose my clients or compromise my sales, I don’t want to betray the women who have adopted my way of dressing. But I want to let people know I’m still alive!”
“My work is informed by yesterday and tomorrow, not five years from now….I don’t like what’s happening in fashion these days. Everything has become a matter of extremes.”
— March 1988