THE EMPORIO EMPORIUM

Byline: Samantha Conti

MILAN — Giorgio Armani has just opened his 25th anniversary gift — and it’s a whopper. On Wednesday, the designer, never one to think small, threw open the doors of a store known as Armani/Via Manzoni 31, a sprawling, three-level, space that looks more like an upscale mall or modern Milanese galleria than a designer boutique.
“I want there to be a sense of discovery and surprise every 15 meters throughout the store,” Armani said. He’s not kidding: It’s like no other retail space in the city — or on the Italian peninsula, for that matter. It houses the Emporio Armani collection, and the first stand-alone spaces for the Armani Jeans and Casa lines. Armani fragrances and accessories also have their own space.
And that’s just the fashion.
Via Manzoni 31 is also home to the Japanese restaurant Nobu — not surprisingly, co-owner Robert De Niro was there for the opening — an Armani Cafe, a bookstore, a Sony store, a florist and spaces that will showcase the work of young contemporary artists.
“When I was 30 years old and working at La Rinascente, I can remember thinking I’d like to have a store like this someday,” said Armani, reminiscing about his days as a window dresser for Italy’s biggest department store chain. “And here it is+my anniversary present to myself.”
The designer spoke about the project during an early-morning walk-through of the shop, which is housed in a former bar and self-service restaurant. Dressed in a gray cashmere T-shirt and baggy gray trousers, the designer guided a herd of reporters, photographers and television crews around the vast space, apologizing for the fact that it was still unfinished.
“Please excuse the dust,” he said in an earnest tone.
Builders and Armani employees toiled through the night on Tuesday — and more or less around the clock for the past month — finishing the store, which the Armani team has been working on for the past year. Armani had spent $62.5 million on the real estate alone and said Wednesday that he poured in over $10 million to restore it. It is 8,000 square meters, with 6,000 square meters of commercial space.
The store opens to the public today.
“It also cost me many a sleepless night,” the designer said, adding that the opening took time away from his spring ready-to-wear collection, which he also showed on Wednesday (see review). Armani’s idea was to create a bright, airy space that would showcase his lifestyle concept — and change with the times. “I wanted a cocoon, a modern container that would hold everything, from my clothing to my home line. I wanted the decor to be minimal, pure and simple so the whole space would give the impression of lightness,” he told WWD after the tour.
“As you can see, too, there isn’t much of a structure inside here: Depending on the changes we want to make in the future, we can move walls and shelves around; the space is fluid.”
Not surprisingly, the designer called on the American minimalist architect Michael Gabellini, of Studio Gabellini Associates, to do the job. Gabellini, who also designed Jil Sander’s Milan flagship, created two atriums — a courtyard and rotunda — to let in the natural light. Walls are an eggshell white and are little more than a backdrop for the merchandise.
The building, which Armani bought from the Italian insurance company Generali, was built in 1937 by the Italian architect Enrico Griffini and is a classic example of Fascist-era architecture.
The ground level, paved in light gray serena stone, houses the Emporio Armani men’s and women’s lines, including accessories — and the French florist Christian Tortu. Next to his space is Bar Nobu, which Armani sees as a good hangout for anyone looking for a quiet place to chat. “I plan to be working the register,” he joked.
Take the escalator upstairs, and there’s Armani Jeans, Casa, cafe, bookstore and Nobu, which will open for business on Oct.17. “This is a wonderful collaboration, because our philosophies are so similar, even though our work is quite different,” said Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.
The Armani Jeans area, with its concrete and resin floors, concrete walls and tent-like dressing rooms is meant to appeal to the 18- to 25-year-old crowd. Indeed, one of Armani’s strategies is to target that age group more aggressively, said a spokesman for the designer.
The bookstore offers everything from tomes on interior decorating in India to a book on how to prepare mozzarella, or photography books by Bruce Weber. Nine hundred square meters are reserved for the Armani Casa collection, which the designer calls his “latest baby.” That space offers everything from satin sheets to stoneware table services to couches and stacks of pillows.
Armani said he plans to wait and see how the megastore does before rolling out any more. But he does appear to have more plans for the building. “The upper levels of this building make my mouth water,” Armani said. “And we’re already thinking about what to do with them.” As reported, he has said that his dream is to transform the space into a hotel. “For now it’s just an idea,” he added. “I wouldn’t want to alarm the people living there.”

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