The Art of Armani

It’s 30 years since Giorgio Armani launched his world-renowned fashion label. Few designers can claim to have made such a lasting impression. Fewer have changed how the world dresses. With consummate skill, dedication and style the Italian maestro has done both. Now he is turning his formidable talents to a beautiful hotel and stunning residences in the tallest building in the world. In the world of fashion, Giorgio Armani has been the calm at the eye of a whirlwind of hype and headlines for more than 30 years: always reliable, yet never predictable. He is a traditionalist and a revolutionary in one breath, constantly looking backwards and forwards, resolving the contradiction without dropping a stitch. He has not just changed fashion: he has changed the idea of what a fashion designer can do. Hollywood stars wear his outfits on screen, on the red carpet and at the Oscar ceremonies. His designs are a fixture of the movie industry as much as the stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

In the early days of his professional and creative career in Italy, Armani worked as a window dresser and a buyer’s assistant before being hired by Nino Cerruti to design men’s clothing for Cerruti’s Hitman ready-to-wear line. After seven years with Cerruti, Armani went freelance in 1975 and set up his own business in a workspace consisting of two rooms and a worktable. In October that year he presented the first ever Giorgio Armani women’s and men’s ready-to-wear collection for Spring/Summer 1976. Giorgio Armani Underwear, Swimwear and Accessories were launched between 1975 and 1980.

The story of the Armani jacket, however, is at the core of the Armani story. Perhaps the best take on it is in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 short film, Made in Milan, in which we see Armani surgically cut a jacket and remove the inner lining, transforming the garment to make it softer and more supple. Armani’s small but crucial discovery was to imagine a garment that fell over the body in a surprisingly natural manner. He modified the arrangement of the buttons and radically altered the proportions of the garment. What was previously considered a defect became the basis of a new form. This creative procedure generated a light jacket, as comfortable as a shirt and almost sensual in its construction. Casual chic had arrived in the world of fashion and the world of fashion loved it. And it wasn’t only men who benefited.

Almost immediately, Armani began extending his revolution to womenswear. He eschewed gimmicks for working women, who needed to dress with the same basic need for everyday elegance and simplicity. Armani applied his innovations in menswear to women’s clothing, with equally acclaimed results.

Just five years after the designer had set up in business, he was being celebrated and feted by Hollywood. Armani had always loved the movies: he greatly admired French actor Jean Gabin and studied photographs of Marlene Dietrich and, in particular, Gary Cooper. And all of this film imagery fed directly into his designs.

It was American Gigolo (1980) that became his most important and memorable film collaboration. When a half-naked Julian Kaye, the gigolo of the title, pulls suits, shirts and ties from his wardrobe, lays them on the bed and matches them up, all the while dancing to Smokey Robinson’s The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage, it is a subtle reminder of Daisy, in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, bending her head and crying – ‘they’re such beautiful shirts. It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.’ In American Gigolo, the shirts are Armani’s. Say what you like about Richard Gere’s character: he may be vain, he may be a narcissist, he may struggle for emotional depth, but he knows how to dress. And in doing so he helped to cement Armani’s growing reputation in America.

Don Johnson wearing Armani in Michael Mann’s TV series Miami Vice, cemented this association still further. In the years that followed Armani designed clothes for films such as The Untouchables, Jerry Maguire, The Grifters, Gattaca and Samuel L Jackson’s remake of Shaft. European directors used him too – Bernardo Bertolucci, for example, for Stealing Beauty in 1996. By 1992 commentators were talking of the ‘Armanisation of the Academy Awards’.

Giorgio Armani’s business was successful almost from its foundation, and today turnover is measured in billions of dollars. In 1985 he launched Emporio Armani, a brand aimed at a younger audience. The two and a half decades since have seen the launch of Giorgio Armani Prive, Armani Collezioni, A/J Armani Jeans, A/X Armani Exchange, Armani Junior, Armani Baby and Armani Casa. The designer has turned his eye and his taste into almost every corner of couture. You can buy Armani spectacles, Armani bags, Armani watches, Armani jewellery, Armani fragrances and cosmetics and Armani home furnishings.

The exclusive Armani Hotels & Resorts in Burj Khalifa, his incredible project with Emaar Hotels & Resorts, is the latest development in his mercurial career. It could not be more fitting. Architecture, like fashion, starts with the human body and expands on ideas of space and movement. For Armani the creative process in designing clothes naturally translates into the thought processes for the sophisticated beauty that will be the hallmark of Armani Hotels & Resorts. The Armani Hotel Dubai – 160 guest rooms and suites, eight restaurants and a spa, covering more than 40,000 square metres in total – is the first product of this new collaboration, along with some 144 luxury residential apartments. Emaar has also announced a development of Armani Residences at its flagship Egyptian resort of Marassi.

Armani Hotels & Resorts offers the same welcome to guests that Armani extends to his own friends and family. Beauty, elegance and grace are the cornerstone of Armani Hotels & Resorts. Every detail bears the Armani signature – from carefully selected textiles and fabrics to impeccable personal service.

Giorgio Armani is the living embodiment of fashion, style and design. He is committed to details because he finds an anchor in them. Just before showing off a new collection, Armani can often be found restyling a model’s make-up and making other minute alterations. With his incredible new project at Burj Khalifa he has spent the past few years getting everything right. Just as his clothes offer the simplest form of self-expression and have enjoyed decades of unparalleled success, Armani Hotels & Resorts marks the start of a stunning and timeless new chapter in the Armani story.

The Only Way is Up

Giorgio Armani has always sought new challenges. Here, the world’s most successful designer discusses his new project in Burj Khalifa with Opus.

Can you tell me your thoughts about working in the Middle East at this stage of your formidable career? Are you surprised? I firmly believe that the Middle East has emerged as the cradle of a new concept of luxury, involving continuous evolution and experimentation. As a region it is very special as it is able to draw on its ancient magic and convert this into a new creative energy. Dubai, in particular, is a place I find deeply fascinating. Of course I am aware that this view might seem like something of a paradox – in many ways Dubai is the opposite of what is normally associated with Armani, a kind of reverse image of the things I hold dear: it is highly visible, ostentatious and frenetic. But there is also an aspect that is very Armani, a quality we have in common: Dubai is a place focused on the future, fast moving, where the imagination knows no bounds. Nothing and nowhere can be compared with the wonder of Dubai, conceived and raised with the sole purpose of astonishing the world.

What attracted you to partner with Emaar on Armani Hotels & Resorts within the Burj Khalifa project? When entering into this sort of a collaboration, it is important to find a partner who has real expertise and know-how in their field, and Emaar is just such a company. Their reputation is for excellence and quality. As for Burj Khalifa, the building is spectacular, and I have always loved pushing the boundaries in design, so to be part of the tallest building in the world was a really attractive proposition.

What does it mean for the Armani brand? I have always loved interior design, so at a certain point I started to wonder whether I could translate my aesthetic into the design of furniture and furnishings. As I developed the Armani/Casa collection I became curious about what the pieces would look like in a space specifically conceived by me. That is why I became involved in this hotel project. It is yet another way in which I can realise my dream of offering my customers a comprehensive Armani lifestyle.

How does the Armani brand fit in with the traditions and culture of Dubai? Dubai has what the Americans call a ‘can-do’ culture – it is a place where people push the envelope of what can be done in terms of architecture and lifestyle. The Armani brand is similarly forward-looking, and that is why Dubai seemed like the perfect place for me to launch my hotels and resorts programme. Dubai also has a great history of trade and has long attracted people from around the world. As a global brand, Armani similarly has a cosmopolitan customer base, so the fit with Dubai seemed a natural one.

What’s the secret of a great hotel design and residential design? To be honest, I tend to find that many hotels lack privacy and contain decor that doesn’t make me feel I am in a luxurious place at all. My hotels will aim to effectively bring to life my vision of hospitality. They will provide harmonious environments for living, from the room designs to the carefully selected textiles and fabrics, to the impeccable service: every aspect of the Armani hotel experience will bear the Armani signature.

What are your personal highlights of Armani Hotels & Resorts in Dubai? Firstly there is the setting: the Burj Khalifa tower is an astonishing structure, unique in the world. Then there is the décor and design of the Armani Hotel, which will reflect absolutely my personal aesthetic. Your stay in an Armani Hotel or Resort should be one of extreme comfort – they will be elegant spaces where people can really relax, with made-to-measure furnishings and diffused, soft lighting. Notably they will also offer the latest in smart technology, to provide real convenience at all times for the modern traveller.

How does Armani differ from other hotel brands that have been developed in Dubai? The difference will lie in the fact that this place has been personally designed and conceived by me to reflect my personal taste. There are indeed luxury hotels in Dubai, but there will only be one Armani Hotel there.

Can you explain how you bring your very specific design aesthetic to a project like this? Armani design is about elegance and sophistication. Over the years I have come to realise I can apply this design philosophy to different lifestyle areas – from clothing to cosmetics, from accessories to mobile phones, from flowers to chocolates. I do not make a distinction between my work in different fields, I merely seek to interpret each project in my own way.

Have you used any subtle design elements in the project with Arabic influences? I do not consciously incorporate influences with specific cultural or geographical resonance, but inevitably I pick up ideas from my travels and from looking at the world around me. My interior design (and my fashion design for that matter) often has an Eastern feel. I am drawn to the art deco period and orientalism – and you can see this in my use of geometric shapes and patterns, and shiny and lacquered surfaces.


How closely linked is the architecture of a building, compared with designing for the body? Interestingly, Mies van der Rohe referred to his work as ‘skin and bones’ architecture, as if he were creating a body. I think there are parallels – in both cases you are imagining a form in three dimensions, but of course with clothing you have the additional element of movement: how will these designs flow and drape and work with the body? That aside, when I think of my ideal for clothing it is to do with creating beautiful, elegant garments that are also comfortable and functional. My interiors are conceived to deliver the same results: beauty and elegance, combined with comfort and function.

If an Armani item of clothing is a form of individuality, what do Armani Hotels & Resorts say of the people who decide to stay or live there? The kind of person who chooses to stay at an Armani hotel or resort or live in an Armani residence will do so because he or she is looking to find the Armani aesthetic realised there. People who wear my clothes feel relaxed and confident and comfortable in them, and this is exactly how an Armani hotel or resort or residence will also make them feel.

What type of person will stay in Armani Hotels & Resorts? Initially I imagine it will be someone who is familiar with my fashion designs or my Armani/Casa interiors collection. These people are typically international travellers with good taste. I wanted to design living spaces that would allow this collection to create a complete mood and atmosphere. Over time I expect I will introduce new customers to the world of my fashion collections through their experience of staying at one of my hotels or resorts.

What is the most vital component of this unique Armani project and why? I have never really enjoyed staying in hotels, as they often have décor that I don’t like and they don’t always have the level of service one would expect from a luxury establishment. So I embarked on my Hotels & Resorts programme out of a desire to give my customers an experience similar to that which they would have were they house guests of mine at home. What you will get at an Armani hotel or resort is great décor, great hospitality and a relaxing experience.

Where do you start on a project of this scale? The parameters are set by the developers. They provide the floor plans, and from these I will work out how I wish the interiors to look. It is a huge undertaking, but I find that if you get the details right, the rest will follow. How difficult is it to maintain such consistency in quality, style, differentiation and popularity? Consistency is, I believe, the key to my success. I have a very consistent approach to the aesthetics I aspire to and I follow my own path. If you have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, then it is not difficult to remain consistent. Quality and style are central to Armani, differentiation comes from my personal design vision and popularity is something I am lucky to enjoy, perhaps as a result of the fact that I respect my customers and want to produce things that people will use and wear. I have never believed in design for design’s sake.

What is the difference between designing clothes for men and women and designing the rooms they will live in? Menswear has many more conventions than womenswear, so designing for men is all about playing with those conventions. Womenswear is a different discipline – it is easier to let your imagination roam when designing for women. However, in both my work for men and for women my fashion collections aim to deliver style and substance – beauty and comfort. When it comes to designing rooms for people to live in, these same principles apply.

What is the appeal of this iconic, supertall building as a showcase for your hotel design? Man has always been fascinated by tall buildings – they stand as testament to his ability and ambition. Who would not be inspired by Burj Khalifa? It is as if a structure from the future has been transported back to our age.

When you see Burj Khalifa now, what goes through your mind? I am very excited – it is an incredible structure. And my part in it is the realisation of a dream I have had for many years.

What individuals from history would have stayed there? Anyone who loves simple, elegant and timeless design. So definitely our old friend Mies van der Rohe. And his colleagues Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. And then Frank Lloyd Wright and Eileen Gray. And of course my mother, who taught me all about minimalism.

If I describe Armani fashion as being part of a lifestyle brand, do you agree this is your intention? Absolutely. For a long time I have wanted to create the notion of a multi-faceted Armani lifestyle through the diverse products I design. Today, more than ever before, fashion has expanded to encompass our way of life – not just how we dress, but where we live, which restaurants we eat at, what kind of car we drive, where we go on holiday and which hotels we stay in. So the Armani Hotels & Resorts programme is in its own way a fashion-related project.

Can you describe the interiors of Armani Hotels & Resorts? Elegant spaces in which people can really relax, with made-to-measure furnishings and soft lighting. Notably they also offer the latest in smart technology, to provide real convenience for the modern traveller. Designing spaces which fulfil different functions is not so difficult for me, as there is a unity in my approach which enables me to switch from conceiving a spa, to a bar, to a bedroom quite easily – they all share common materials and finishes and colour palettes.

Does your background influence your work, or do you depersonalise? My background and life experiences are absolutely central to my work. Armani is the product of my personal vision. It is not an exercise in marketing. I started the company because I felt I had something to say as a designer.

If you could have designed an Armani Hotel or Resort in any other building in the past, what would it have been? That’s a difficult question to answer. Maybe the Empire State Building when it was first built.

How do you define style? It is a personal thing, and linked to character, rather than merely a question of appearance. For me style is all about being elegant and sophisticated. I aspire to a timeless quality, rather than anything that follows transient trends.

What is you favourite part of Armani Hotels & Resorts? I particularly like the lighting, as it creates a relaxed and subdued mood. Though the furnishings and furniture for the Hotels & Resorts have been designed specifically for the project, people can recreate the look with pieces from my Armani/Casa collection.

With your clothing you established a new way of dressing by changing the relationship between structure and movement, body and garment. Can you explain how this is transferred to your Burj Khalifa project? There are many similarities between my fashion collections and my designs for furniture, furnishings and interiors. The colour palette for both is neutral, and the textiles and finishes used in the interiors also often echo what I am doing in my fashion collections. But above all, the look and feel of my spaces in Burj Khalifa will be typically Armani in that they will be linear and geometric, minimal and unfussy, and not overtly gender-specific.

When you saw the project coming to life, did it feel like everything you imagined it would be? Yes, it did. I wanted to create a place that would make me feel at home, that blends the comfortable with the modern, the beautiful with the functional. I am pleased to see we have achieved this special combination of qualities in Burj Khalifa.

What aspect of Giorgio Armani is most visible in the project? The entire experience of staying at Burj Khalifa should be an Armani experience. Perhaps the most immediate sense of Armani that the guests will notice is the colour palette of natural neutrals – this palette of mine has been dubbed ‘greige’ and it is something I am well known for.

You deconstructed the jacket in the 1970’s. In what way has this process been applied to this project? When I started experimenting with deconstruction my aim was to produce tailored clothing that was comfortable to wear. It seemed to me that we were still making tailoring using the techniques that our grandfathers had used. In my interiors I have a similar desire to make the living environment as comfortable as possible.

The design process – how difficult is it to maintain and then evolve? You always need to evolve as a designer. Sometimes this happens in a conscious way, and sometimes you evolve unconsciously. It is not difficult to move forwards if you are always striving to challenge yourself, as I am.

You have a great love of film and art, Matisse and Picasso in particular. What influence has this had, if any, on your current way of thinking? I love film and art, but what I take from these art forms is a sense of the passion that went into the creative process. Artists like my friend Martin Scorsese, the director, and of course the greats like Picasso – these are people who believe totally in pursuing their creative ideas. I take inspiration from their achievements.

Fashion usually feeds off changes and trends, yet you have remained consistent. How will your sense of style translate to different hotel projects around the world? My hotels will all reflect the Armani aesthetic, however the different buildings and cities they find themselves in will no doubt influence the specifics of their design. This is the approach I adopt with my stores around the world – they share a common spirit, but have individual characters. For example, my new store on Fifth Avenue, in New York, combines many of my collections under one roof. It is a democratic approach to retail well suited to the US.

If you were to dress Burj Khalifa, what would it be wearing? Something casual? Elegant? Formal? Informal? Relaxed? A sleek, long, elegantly cut evening dress made from a plain, flowing piece of pale fabric that has been engineered with some stretchy fibre so it moves effortlessly with the body it encases.

Your fashion influence is not ‘touristy’ – you do not pick from here and there, nor dip in and out. Has this always been a conscious thing that you tried to cultivate? The way I design has never been something I consciously developed – I simply work in the way that comes most naturally to me. I do not seek out inspiration from different cultural trends. Instead I observe the world around me and soak up its sights and sounds. These may then find themselves echoed in my work, but everything is always expressed through the Armani ‘filter’ of timeless elegance and sophistication.

Can you describe the day, or evening, in the life of the kind of man or woman who stays at Armani Hotels & Resorts? I imagine that my guests will check in and leave behind the stress and strain of their professional lives. They can of course stay in contact with the outside world by making use of the state-of-the-art technology available to them, but the place will invite them to relax and recharge, through the use of the available amenities, like restaurants and spas, as well as through the general ambience and quality of service. I really want people to feel refreshed by their stay, even if they are there on business.

Armani as the complete lifestyle brand of now and of the future. Please discuss. I have for a long time imagined that Armani could become a total lifestyle brand, but it has taken many years to get to the point where this is becoming a reality. Fashion was my first love, but as a designer I realised that I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could apply my approach to different lifestyle areas. This has ultimately led me to work with fragrances and accessories, chocolates, cars, flowers, interiors, and now Hotely & Resorts. I would not rule out the possibility of developing any product that fits with my idea of modern lifestyle. And I am particularly drawn to the idea of creating more pieces of technology – the changes in technology over the past decade or so have really altered the way we live today, and I am interested in exploring how I can do more work in this field.

What is next for you? In the immediate future, more work on the hotels and resorts, and next season’s collections.

Giorgio Armani contributed to the Burj Khalifa Opus.