"Art with a big A", he exclaims of his Spring/Summer ’18 collection, amid the classic post-show scene of photographers, journalists, special guests buzzing about him, hoping to catch sound bites and selfies, or offer their “love, darling”. He rolls off in Italian to quick-fire questions, as I catch his steel-blue gaze for mine. “It’s not a specific art message, but pictures in my mind,” he says about his painterly collection. “Impressionist paintings, imagery, art in general.” If you had the mind for it, you could easily draw out the references: bright Vincent van Gogh-ish florals on black laser-cut jackets; a Joan Miró-inspired print on a long and loose silk jacket or cowl-draped dress; Gustav Klimt’s iridescent mosaics; Andy Warhol’s famous red Flowers vibrantly blossoming on black cocktails looks or pink day dresses ... However, Armani’s references are always filtered into abstract thoughts, to offer his fashion “a more substantial dialogue”, his point of view.
“I wanted to create a collection made up of gestures, instinctive decisions, mixing colours and materials in the way that an artist improvises a composition by moving his brush on the canvas,” he later said about this ‘Ateliers d’Artistes’ segment of his 78-look collection, where a floral-print pleated sash brushing across a silk black dress conceptually illustrates. “I find that this strength marries well with the soft precision of my lines, which is always present and ensures consistency.”
That word “consistency”—anathema to multi-referential, bipolarist, social media fashion that 180s itself each season—is what informs Armani’s vision and success. Borderline classic but that’s the point; there is no strenuous runway styling, rather, a breezy spirit and the finest dressmaking skills. In the same approach he has taken to his signature relaxed tailoring, he softens the lines on his womenswear so that evening jackets are softly sculpted to give a fluid silhouette, worn with high-waisted pants or skirts to, always, elongate the body.
Silk is synonymous with Armani, the opposite of hard-tech fabrications on the Insta-savvy runways, made even softer with petal-like hemlines, expert draping, and sheer chiffons. A few edges here and there—sporty ruching on gilets or windbreaker-style jackets, black leather lattice-work on florals for that cage-like effect, plastic sneaker-shoes—give it nowness. Look 17 and 18 were timelessly Armani, and yet so current: leather plissé skirts in contrasts of black/turquoise and grey/yellow, cinched with a black bodice, and styled up with an oversized silk trench jacket, short neo-Louise Brooks bob and Armani shades, for that cool Armani gamine of the ’90s.
“I created a modern, vibrant, feminine collection,” he shares. “Something that is deeply Armani, but with a fresh perspective.’
Two gentlemen in silver silk suits cut halfway through the collection, underscoring Armani’s iconic tailoring, lest we forget that it’s not all painterly prints and flouncy frills. “Grey is the colour par excellence of the male suit,” he said of this six-look interlude of jacquard silk blazers and cropped wide pants. “This season I presented it in a silky, shimmering version for the women’s collection, focusing on the alluring effect of the jacket cut close to the body.”
Walking through the history of the Armani suit at Armani/Silos is a potent reminder of what made it the very definition of style in the ’80s, an innovation that sliced through those almost-comical ’70s zoot suits and exaggerated lines of ’80s power pinstripes. By softening the silhouette and fabrication, and with its major debut on Richard Gere in American Gigolo, Armani gave the suit sex appeal. “The suit has an incredible iconographic power and ease of use. It expresses awareness and control, and is, in my deconstructed version, easy to wear,” he muses. “With the proper adaptations, I find it perfect for him and for her; a magnificent and elegant passe-partout.”
This makes the very lynchpin of his creations ... from that entire collection based on soft tailoring, sinuous silhouettes, and double silk. The fluidity gives every look a sense of beautiful androgyny, which back in the ’90s was revolutionary after the hyper-femme looks of Lacroix versus Mugler’s dominatrix, and yet never unisex or genderless. Men and women keep their own special power without having to be another, in their glamorously elegant Armani “uniforms” that allow individuality and personality to shine through.
And sparkle she must! The second half took flight with Armani’s evening looks detailed with silk organza flowers, disco stripes, confetti puffs, sexy sequins, and black crystals all shimmering in the dark. All-black ensembles styled with black veils showcased his expert tailoring and incredible fabric contrasts to create classic Cinecittà glamour. Look 76 of layers of billowing mauve chiffon worn with a short black velvet vest richly embroidered in Monet pastels, accessorised with a confetti-net scarf was timelessly Armani and yet very now. Indeed, the maestro’s masterpiece.