What Makes Giorgio Run?...相信這篇文章能給同在設計領域的朋友一點啟示

September 18, 2006


What Makes Giorgio Run?

By ALICE RAWSTHORN

Published : September 17, 2006_The New York Times



When Bono edited a special issue of the British newspaper The Independent this summer, he sent a copy to Giorgio Armani with an inscription scrawled around the front page. “Señor Armani,” it read. “You are an inspiration to me to not let go of detail and control of ideas and aesthetic. Only to God must we let go. A blessing ... Bono.”



Addressing the most famous living Italian as a Spanish “señor” and not “signore” doesn’t augur well for Bono’s future as a control freak. But, for all his charming Irish blarney, Bono, the lead singer of U2, had one thing right: no one could ever accuse Giorgio Armani of letting go.



Take the scene backstage at the Emporio Armani men’s show in Milan last June. The models lined up while Armani put the finishing touches to their makeup. They lined up again while he knotted neckties, adjusted the angle of hats, ruffled handkerchiefs in top pockets and fussed over buttons. Then he showed each one exactly how to pose. Once they’d hit the runway, Armani, a lithe 72 in his summer uniform of a tight navy blue T-shirt and baggy shorts, raced to the entrance, where he scrutinized the show on a plasma screen. Whenever he spotted something amiss, Armani pointed it out to a colleague, who sprinted off to correct it.



He isn’t just like this at show time. “I’ve never met anyone whose attention to detail is so obsessive,” notes Ron Frasch, the vice chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue. “He personally approves every necktie, every swatch of fabric. If you think of all the products his company puts out each year, that’s incredible.”



Famous photographers who arrive to take his portrait must do it Armani’s way, right down to the lighting. Art directors are told exactly how to produce his ads. Musicians arrive for fittings to discover that Armani himself will be doing the pinning. Before the opening of the Teatro Armani building in Milan, its architect, Tadao Ando, remembers Armani checking the angle and sightline of each of the 558 seats. Pauline Denyer, the wife of the fashion designer Paul Smith, reports a sighting of him sweeping the sidewalk outside one of his Milan boutiques. The furniture designer Mario Bellini, who has lived next door to Armani on Via Borgonuovo in Milan for more than 20 years, observes: “Our neighbors say that every morning he wakes up, runs down the street to look at the windows of his stores on Via Manzoni. He makes a mental note of everything that’s wrong, and tells his staff.”



That sort of dedication has paid off. After 30 years of extraordinary success, Giorgio Armani will go down in history as the man who defined the working wardrobe of the late-20th century and taught Hollywood how to dress. As the president, chief executive and sole shareholder of a company that generated 5 billion euros (about $6.4 billion) in retail sales last year, he is the world’s wealthiest fashion designer, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $4.5 billion. Ask a fashionista to name the most important designer working today, and she’ll probably say Nicolas Ghesquière, of Balenciaga (at least she would this season). But if you asked anyone else — that’s the 99.9 percent of the population who buy clothes, rather than design, style or write about them — they’d say Giorgio Armani. “Like all the truly great designers in fashion history, Giorgio Armani is about style, not fashion,” observes Franca Sozzani, the editor in chief of Italian Vogue. “They find their style, and they stick to it, and that’s what he has done.”



For all his wealth and fame, Armani still subjects himself every six months to the masochistic ritual of reassessment by the fashion press. He spends his days in meeting after meeting after meeting. He rarely walks, as if to do so would waste valuable time, but races from place to place chased by flustered assistants. Like their boss, they are dressed as if fresh from the gym, where Signore Armani, as they call him, works out for at least an hour each day. This, too, has paid off. Armani looks astonishingly buff for his age, despite his white hair and the deep wrinkles etched beneath his tan. The wrinkles lend character to his delicate features, but what you remember most from Armani’s face are his searing, ice-blue eyes.



“Do I ever think of retiring?” he asks, repeating my question over lunch in Milan. “Yes. Some mornings I think, That’s it. I’ll visit my houses, sail my boat, go to the country, walk my dogs and buy Picassos. But that would mean the end, because my life is to work. My life would be empty. What would I do? I couldn’t travel with people my own age, because I have absolutely no inclination to spend time with old men and women. I much prefer to be around young people who challenge me. They keep me sharp and in touch with what’s happening. That’s why I carry on.”



But what is the future of a company owned and run by a 72-year-old control freak? However profitable the brand and however smart and focused its founder (and Armani is preternaturally endowed with both qualities, as anyone unlucky enough to have negotiated with him will attest), the question is unavoidable. “The future is my biggest challenge,” admits Armani, who founded his business with his boyfriend 31 years ago by selling their Volkswagen Bug. “And I’m addressing it now.” But he’s been saying that for years.



To understand Giorgio Armani, and why he is so driven, you have to go to Piacenza, the dour industrial city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy where he was born in 1934. There’s an Italian saying that if a stranger goes to Romagna, he or she would be given a glass of wine, but in Emilia, he would be lucky to get a glass of water; Piacenza is in Emilia.



Life there was especially hard during Armani’s childhood. He was 5 when World War II began, and the local factories became a target of Allied bombing raids. His mother took him to live in a nearby village with his older brother, Sergio, and younger sister Rosanna, while their father stayed behind to work in the offices of Mussolini’s Fascist Party. Some of Armani’s friends were killed in the raids, and he and Rosanna had a close call when they spotted a bomber. “We jumped into a hole beside the road and hid beneath my jacket,” he says.



After the war, he was badly injured by a land mine. A friend died, and Armani was hospitalized for 40 days. “I looked so horrible that when a friend came to see me, he fainted with shock,” recalls Armani, whose eyesight was permanently weakened. The family suffered financially when Armani’s father found himself out of work and condemned as a collaborator: “When I first saw the Italian neorealist films, I didn’t enjoy them at all. I’d lived the life, and I didn’t like to be reminded of it.”



The dominant force in the family was Armani’s mother, Mariù. “We were a happy, loving family, but my mother was tough, very tough,” he says. “One night my parents went out, and so was my brother, leaving my sister and me alone in the house. I’d seen a film that had frightened me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When my parents came back, I was crying. My mother said, ‘What’s wrong, Giò?’ When I told her, she slapped me. I wasn’t scared after that. She said very little, but her words were well chosen. I’m just like her.”



Armani did well at school and won a place to study medicine at university. After serving in the military for two years, he abandoned his studies and in 1957 found a job as a display assistant and buyer at La Rinascente in Milan, then one of Europe’s chicest department stores. Shortly afterward, he fell in love with the architect Sergio Galeotti. Gabriella Forte, who met the couple in 1979 and worked for Armani until 1994, recalls: “Everything about Sergio was so elegant. The way he spoke, his posture, his clothes, his laughter, everything. And he spoke with such love of Giorgio.”



After seven years at La Rinascente, learning about window dressing and merchandising, Armani joined the men’s-wear designer Nino Cerruti, where he was drilled in tailoring and production.



In 1975 Galeotti persuaded Armani, then 40, to start his own label for both men and women. He would run the business, while Armani designed. Unusual for a designer, his work was equally appealing to both men and women, but Armani was blessed with luck as well as talent.



By the mid-70’s, the influence of the French couturiers, who had dominated global fashion since Christian Dior unveiled his New Look in 1947, was waning. Locked in the couture tradition, the French clothing industry had not adapted to the expansion of the ready-to-wear market in the the late 60’s. The glittering exception was Yves Saint Laurent, but by the mid-70’s his health was declining.



Italian manufacturers decided to fill the vacuum by investing in local designers, and did so on unusually favorable terms. They financed production and marketing and paid the designers a percentage of the profits. New designers like Armani and Gianni Versace could begin their businesses free from debt, with ambitious fashion shows and advertising campaigns. Armani and Galeotti did a deal with one of the biggest manufacturers, GFT.



Like most new designers, Armani wanted to dress people his own age, and when he was 40, his taste was more conservative than that of the typical designer ingénue. He drew inspiration from the fashions of his youth, the 1930’s and 40’s. “People were so elegant and proper then,” he recalls. “I hated the styles of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Women in miniskirts looking like roast pigs with fat legs.” As youth culture erupted in punk nihilism, Armani unveiled what would become his signature style: a soft, deconstructed suit. He took the business uniform of the day, which was stiff and heavily structured — another legacy of the French couture tradition — and removed the stiffness, as Neapolitan tailors had done for years in the light suits they created for the Mediterranean heat.



He refined their deconstructed tailoring by finessing the cut, developing beautiful fabrics and experimenting with new styles of collars, fastenings and cuffs. Armani feminized men’s tailoring, using cuts and fabrics traditionally reserved for women, while adding the same ease to women’s wear but with an elegant authority. He targeted the largest and most affluent part of the market — the over-35 crowd — where there was less competition and a genuine need for change.



What we now think of as classic Armani — his studied simplicity — was reflected in the work of contemporary Italian furniture designers like Bellini and Vico Magistretti. His use of neutral colors — beiges, grays and blacks — and muted patterns was evocative of Milanese architecture and, more particularly, the lowlands around Piacenza, where, observes Carlo Antonelli, the editor in chief of the Italian edition of Rolling Stone, “there is a strange light and a strange mist.”



Armani insisted on creating his own advertising, helped by his sister Rosanna and inspired by images from his favorite Visconti and Bertolucci movies. Armed with GFT’s investment, they booked the back page of every issue of L’Uomo Vogue magazine. “As soon as it arrived, I’d turn to the Armani ad,” Paul Smith remembers. “His techniques were radical for the time. He treated fabric in ways that no one had done before. My wife, Pauline, was teaching fashion design, and her students begged to see what he’d done next.”



The L’Uomo Vogue ads so impressed Fred Pressman, the owner of Barneys New York, that, in 1976, he phoned the Italian Trade Commission in New York trying to track down Armani and spoke with Forte, who was working there. “I had no clue who Giorgio Armani was, but I found his name in the Milan telephone directory,” she says. “It was 5 p.m. in New York, and I dialed totally forgetting that it was 11 p.m. in Milan. Sergio said: ‘I don’t know when we’ll be in New York, we have a lot going on.’ I didn’t realize that they’d just started and had very little going on.” Barneys placed a large order, and Forte later joined Armani, first to develop the United States retail business and then, after 1985, to be his right hand worldwide.



Another stroke of luck was a call from the filmmaker Paul Schrader, an Armani customer at Maxfield in Hollywood. He asked whether Armani would do John Travolta’s wardrobe for his next movie, “American Gigolo.” Armani agreed, only to have to alter the clothes when Travolta dropped out and was replaced by a then-unknown named Richard Gere. Louche and sexy, Gere was perfectly cast for the narcissism of the moment — after disco but before AIDS, when gym culture was taking off and even straight men were losing their hang-ups about being seen to look good. In one scene, the bare-chested Gere bops around his bedroom composing outfits of lush Armani suits with color-coordinated shirts and ties. It was a priceless advertisement.



The brand hit the mainstream when the economy was buoyant and a new breed of executive was emerging: young, urban professionals, who adopted Armani as their uniform. In 1982, Time magazine ran a cover article on “Giorgio’s Gorgeous Style.” Success in the United States made Armani a hero in Italy, where, after the trauma of 1970’s terrorism, he was hailed as a catalyst of the country’s economic resurgence.



By the mid-80’s, he and Galeotti could exercise more control over the way the collection was promoted and sold. Like other Italian labels, Armani demanded favorable coverage from magazines in return for advertising, a practice that designers in other countries soon adopted. He also told department stores how to design their sales areas and imposed quotas on the orders, insisting that a specific proportion was spent on new pieces shown on the runway, with the remainder on classic designs. “You couldn’t go in and say, ‘I want so many jackets, and this and that,”’ recalls Ron Frasch, who was then at Neiman Marcus. “They decided how you bought and presented the collection. And you couldn’t say no. Mr. Armani was it.”



Armani and Galeotti enjoyed their newfound wealth. They bought a holiday home on the island of Pantelleria and rented a palazzo to house their apartment and the business. Armani bought a house for his mother, his father having died in 1960. “I gave her a life that she could never have imagined with a housekeeper, a chauffeur and a dog. One day she said to me, ‘Giorgio, thank you, but it’s too late.”’



In 1985, Galeotti died. Not only did Armani have to cope with the loss of his partner of nearly 30 years, but he also had to learn how to run a global business from scratch: “Sometimes it was very, very difficult to have to handle things on my own, but Sergio wouldn’t have wanted someone else to take his place.” Armani says that his biggest problem was dealing with lawyers: “It was as if they were speaking a secret language. But I learned. Eventually I had the confidence to tell the lawyer who’d worked for me for years that he was too expensive.”



Today it is hard to imagine that he ever faltered. As the global luxury industry has expanded, so has Armani, which now owns more than 350 stores worldwide and employs nearly 5,000 people. The company has moved into new countries, notably China and Russia, and new markets, from Armani Jeans at one end of the price scale to the Armani Privé couture collection at the other. It has also expanded into new product sectors, like Armani Casa and cosmetics. Next up is a range of skin-care products and a luxury hotel chain. Armani is even tapping into the burgeoning market for conscientious consumption through his involvement with American Express, Motorola and the Gap on the launch of the Red range of products, a percentage of whose profits will be donated to the Global Fund for AIDS.



Armani’s discipline and steeliness have served him well in business. “He has tremendous clarity of vision,” notes Alexander Vreeland, the president of the GAV apparel company, who worked for Armani in the 1990’s. “I’ve sat with him in meetings dealing with a broad spectrum of complex business issues, and he demonstrated an incredible grasp of detail and innovative solutions.”



The designer has also acquired a taste for cutting deals. “I really enjoy it,” he says with relish. “I don’t look like a businessman, or dress like one, and that’s an advantage, because it throws my opponents.” When GFT hit a rough spot, Armani bought up the factories that made his products. Three years ago he severed one of his oldest and most profitable licensees with Luxottica, the Italian eyewear maker run by Leonardo Del Vecchio. “It had been a great business for us both, but I’d said from the start that I wanted to have the last word on the collection,” Armani says. “One day Mr. Del Vecchio came to me saying that he wanted the last word. That was it.”



Armani has eight homes — from a pied-à-terre on Central Park West to a 1950’s mansion near Piacenza — but spends almost all of his time in the Via Borgonuovo apartment beside his studio and office. Occasional weekends are spent at his houses in Forte dei Marmi, Portofino and



St.-Tropez, and he visits Pantelleria every August and the Caribbean at Christmas. He travels with an entourage of employees and relatives, all of whom work for the company: Rosanna, as an art director; her son Andrea, on the commercial side; and Sergio Armani’s daughters, Silvana as a designer and Roberta in public relations.



He has little interest in socializing outside that circle. “I don’t feel comfortable with the jet set,” he admits. “It just isn’t me.” At a lunch for his couture clients after the Armani Privé show in Paris last July, Armani spoke politely to the guests at his table in French and Italian (he has never learned English) before darting off to discuss the arrangements for an afternoon meeting with his cosmetics licensee L’Oréal. Armani’s employees whisper that he has a fiery temper when things go awry, but in conversation he is crisply polite, though his courtesy sometimes seems like a ploy to dispense with people swiftly. Even in his youth, there was no “lost” period of partying for Armani. The only time he remembers being drunk was at his niece Roberta’s wedding. “He was so funny,” she recalls, “jumping up to sing ‘O Sole Mio’ with Bryan Adams.” Armani is often spoken of in fashion circles as a forlorn, isolated figure, but he seems more like an exceptionally determined character who has organized his life exactly as he likes it.



By the otherworldly standards of a multibillionaire, that life is relatively frugal. Deal-making aside, his principal passion is still cinema. Armani’s face lights up when he talks about it, calling out to colleagues to remind him of the name of an obscure Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio de Sica picture. “One of the things that connects us is a love of Italian neorealist cinema,” says the director Martin Scorsese, who has known Armani since the early 1980’s. “He’s tremendously knowledgeable about it.” Rather than build a screening room, Armani prefers to see movies in local cinemas. “People are always surprised to see me there, but for me part of the pleasure of seeing a film is to watch it with other people,” he says. His chief extravagance is the $15 million boat he bought three years ago and has since refitted in his favorite grays and beiges, with matte metalwork and black ropes, and named Mariù after his mother. “He could never quite reconcile himself to having spent so much money on the boat,” recounts an employee. “But then he was told that he could charter it.” The Mariù has proved so popular — the gallery owner Larry Gagosian holidayed on it this summer — that Armani is designing a second boat to be chartered, too.



Not everything has worked. The jury is still out on Armani Casa, and we have yet to see an Armani “It” bag, but the disappointments pale beside the achievements. As Fiat and the other industrial dynasties that dominated postwar Italy have declined, Armani has thrived. “He represents the side of Italy that we like to show to the world, the disciplined, hardworking side,” observes Mario Bellini. “‘King Giorgio,’ that’s what the Italian newspapers call him.”



The fashion press isn’t as obsequious. Editors have always preferred fragile neurasthenics like Yves Saint Laurent, who suffer for their “art,” to doughty pragmatists. They also prefer new looks to timelessly elegant classics and complain that Armani never does anything new. That said, the reviews are much more favorable for his classic collections than for creative stretches like last fall’s roundly criticized women’s silk bloomers. He doesn’t help matters by firing off complaints about critical coverage.



The company is equally highhanded in dealing with retailers, who still have to buy their quota from the runway show alongside the classics, regardless of whether they want to. “Recently there have been some awkward, over-the-top pieces on the runway,” says one retailer, who asked not to be named so as not to jeopardize the merchant’s relationship with the company. “We’re buying them because we have to, but the customers aren’t. Thank God that there’s a large classic component in the collection.” When it comes to retail real estate, Armani is equally inflexible. Says another retailer: “There’s a bit of polite Italian banter, but basically they come in and say, ‘We want this position, and the fit-out will be like this.’ There’s no negotiation and no compromise. And there’s nothing you can do because the selling power of the Armani brand is so immense. It’s just huge.”



Armani’s selling power is still increasing — with gross sales, according to company reports, up 10 percent to 1.43 billion euros, or about $1.8 billion, last year. And while the ascent of the personal stylist has ended his dominance on the red carpet, Armani is still the label of choice for the creative establishment. Scorsese loves “the classic simplicity” of his clothes, and for the producer Harvey Weinstein, it’s “always Armani for formal occasions.” The theater director Robert Wilson says that Armani’s designs “make people look good and quiet and feel comfortable.”



To members of the fashion press, that’s about as exciting as saying that his clothes last for years, that you get expert service at the Armani counter and that his cuts and cross-weaves cleverly flatter older, plumper figures. Herein lies the dislocation between the fashionista’s image of Armani and the public’s. Most of the people who buy expensive clothes aren’t obsessively cool 20-year-olds; they’re years older and pounds heavier. They don’t have the time or confidence to aspire to dress fashionably, and as Armani’s classics have never let them down, they buy them again. “Armani is a safe bet, and that’s what most people want,” says the brand consultant Susanne Tide-Frater, a former creative director of Selfridges and Harrods in London.



“The thing about Giorgio Armani is that he owns sophistication. No one else in the market does.”



All of Armani’s marketing evokes that quality. He and Rosanna have worked with many famous fashion photographers over the years, from Peter Lindbergh to Mert and Marcus, but Armani ads always look the same. “They have the grabbed quality of cinema, and the heightened realism of Visconti’s neorealist films,” Scorsese says. Rather than telling a story about that season’s collection, as Prada and Marc Jacobs do, Armani’s campaigns convey a single generic message: sophistication. By using the same elegant serif typeface across every product line, Armani ensures that the sight of one logo reminds the customers of all of the others, too. The marketing is so clear and consistent that even those with no knowledge of fashion remember the name and what it represents, just as they do with a BMW or a Mercedes logo. As a result, the brand has more in common with those luxury marquees than the hot fashion labels of the moment.



So far, success has enabled Armani to rebuff the luxury conglomerates and investment bankers who have trooped through Via Borgonuovo hoping to buy his business. One of Armani’s favorite stories is of a visit by four Italian industrialists who wanted to buy his company with an elderly banker: “He was the most powerful man in Italian banking, and while the others spoke, he sat there, not saying a word. Then he looked over at the other men and said: ‘My dear sirs, Mr. Armani doesn’t need us. Let’s go.”’



Success has also allowed Armani to ignore the question of succession. He says he has decided against a single successor, in favor of building a team. But at 72, without a firm plan in place, his options to secure his company’s future are narrowing. Could he float it on the stock market? Possibly, but not at its full value. Would another company buy or invest in it? The answer is the same. So far, licensees have continued to invest in new launches, but that may change if the succession isn’t settled. Armani says that his family will inherit his wealth and that the company will be run independently, possibly through a foundation, but, no, he hasn’t set one up yet. And in the meantime there are hotels to plan, stores to open, new products to launch and a second boat to design. “My problem is time,” Giorgio Armani says with a sigh, “always time.”











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