Traffic was unusually light in Milan this morning, which was fortunate. As a result, having arrived at Giorgio Armani’s headquarters on via Bergognone a half hour early for a preview of the new Armani Silos museum, I encountered the designer himself standing on the street.
The route to his offices had been entirely transformed, from its normally car-and-paparazzi clogged bluster into a beautiful pedestrian plaza, with strips of manicured grass forming a temporary median for tonight’s festivities in honor of his company’s 40th anniversary. Seeing him standing there, wearing a loosely fitted black suit, as unconstructed as a sweater, a black T-shirt, and white leather sneakers, I was reminded that Armani pays extraordinarily close attention to the details, and at his subtle direction, a crew of men appeared to sweep the sidewalks of a few remaining traces of dirt. Nothing escapes him.
“It’s been quite an emotional journey, and especially very gratifying,” Armani said at the entrance. “I know what I’ve done now, and everybody can come and see it here.”
What had been planned as a press preview of the fantastic new building, with nearly 50,000-square feet of exhibition space set inside in a 1950s building that was originally built as a warehouse for grains (pictured, above), turned into a somewhat impromptu, two-hour reflection by the designer on his career, with plenty of personal moments, too. An English journalist had just told him the day before that despite his success, there would be people who criticize him for being “a little bit boring,” he said, “But this exhibition shows that I have been creative as well during my career, and not always done the same thing. I wanted to show myself, too, that I have done things that were against my style.”
Armani, who is 81, led a tour of his collections – some 600 dresses from 1980 to the present, all from his Giorgio Armani ready-to-wear. Silos, which opens at the start of the Milan Expo, is spread over four floors with a central atrium, designed after the original silo, but with walls of pale golden stucco. At the entrance is a black dress printed with an image of the designer, and what follows are groupings of men’s and women’s wear organized by theme – flowers, exoticism, daywear, lightness – all provoking memories for Armani, of Amber Valetta photographed for an ad campaign in the desert, wearing a stone gray twill pantsuit, of a Peter Pan collar from a 1987 collection that he brought back in more recent ones, of a Japan-inspired collection that Grace Jones loved so much she took 12 of the samples. “These are the ones that are left,” he said.
Throughout the morning, he took questions on any number of subjects, and here are some more of the highlights:
On creating the concept and design for Silos: “It’s quite a difficult building to create order, as it was a container for grain for a big company, Nestlé, but I thought it could be the right location to contain everything I have produced and that I can produce in the future. I said it would be fabulous as a museum, even though I don’t like the word museum, because museum is a bit static. This will change every six months. There will be additions of new collections. It will be renewed with pieces that have not managed to make it in the first cut, but will in the future. It’s alive.”
On how the body has changed over four decades: “The body has gotten better, but I don’t think fashion has gotten better for women. It’s been reduced to the very simple, to a legging, a biker jacket, a pair of sneakers. It’s gotten very simple, down to the essentials. Before, they dressed for the day, and for the evening. Now it’s very simple. Something needs to change a little, otherwise all of this work wouldn’t make sense.”
On the collaborative nature of his work: “I am reminded of the work other people have done for me. If I take a look out at the people on my team, they want to cry, it’s emotional. The beauty of this job is that it is not cold work, it is a work that makes you close to people.”
On being a demanding boss: “I promise I have been very difficult on everyone working on this project, probably not enough. I think I have taught people that work is not only 9 to 6. You work at night as well, and the next day is exciting to go to work because you know you can do better. I say I’m only satisfied 50 percent of the time. Maybe for the next 40 years, I will be 100-percent satisfied.”
On socializing over dinner: “I like to be by myself when I’m having my dinner at home with my cat, Angel.”
Watch your back, Choupette!
Tonight, the same space will be filled with celebrities: Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more will be here for a runway show of his Privé couture collections, but the preview, in a way, was a chance for Armani to say thank you to all the people who have written about him for 40 years.
“You have really given me everything, what is in here is also thanks to you,” he said. “If you had said no at the beginning, I wouldn’t have continued. You really helped me to believe in myself.”