Giorgio Armani – the brand and the person – are one and the same. It’s not for nothing that the Italian designer has become a living legend: he’s always stuck to his guns, never compromising his crystal-clear vision to please novelty-hungry media or to cater to short-lived trends. Known for his painstaking attention to the minutiae of the design process and for his complete dedication to his craft, Armani is an institution on par with other bastions of luxury such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Dior. The difference is that the man behind the label is as recognisable as the celebrities he has dressed over the years.
In 2015, the designer marked his 40th year in the business with the opening of Armani/Silos,an exhibition space that celebrates his oeuvre. While other luxury brands have been amassing art collections to be shown in sleek buildings conceived by first-rate architects – Prada, Louis Vuitton and Cartier come to mind – Armani has decided to focus instead on what he knows best:clothing. In the process, he’s made his entire body of work accessible to the public.
Other designers of his generation might baulk at the idea of opening up their archives – looking back in fashion is definitely a no-no but Armani is not afraid to pay homage to the past while looking to the future, offering his fans the chance to revisit 40 years of Italian style through his unfiltered lens. The first exhibition centres on his eponymous label, Giorgio Armani, but the display will change in the coming months to highlight other brands under the Armani aegis, such as Emporio Armani and perhaps his couture line Armani Privé.
Armani/Silos is a complete incarnation of the man’s vision. While in the past he has worked with other architects Tadao Ando designed the showroom and theatre where Armani presents his collections, across the street from Armani/Silos – this time he took full charge of the project. It involved gutting a granary – hence the name – and turning it into a four-floor structure that functions as a subdued backdrop to the creations on display. The designer maintained the geometric lines of the original building while making it his own through small gestures, such as the predominance of a toned-down palette of grey – or more aptly, his signature greige and the use of lights and shadows to highlight the outfits. The concrete slabs that make up the building are broken up by two levels of naves overlooking the entrance, where a stunning velvet dress featuring a portrait of the man himself greets visitors.
Split into sections ranging from Daywear, which shows Armani’s groundbreaking soft tailoring for both men and women, to Stars, which revisits his pioneering relationship with actors such as Richard Gere (whom he famously dressed for American Gigolo), Jodie Foster and Cate Blanchett, the exhibition comprises 600 outfits and accessories, and a high-tech digital archive, where everyone from design students to fashion fans can peruse countless looks created by Armani and the history behind each of them, making this section an invaluable resource for fashion historians and enthusiasts alike.
Armani/Silos is far from a mere vanity project; it is a real gift to Milan and to the fashion community, a true testament to the power of the incredible focus of one visionary. As the designer says, “I decided to call it Silos because this building used to store food, which is something we all need to live. For me, like food,clothes are part of life.”
Looking at 40 years of his creations in such a setting, you realise how apt this comparison is. Much like food, Armani’s work is built on the idea of essentials, pieces that don’t change for change’s sake but for a specific reason, to keep up with the times and to serve a function, without, however, neglecting the relentless focus on the restrained beauty and simplicity that are at the core of his aesthetic.
Whether you’re admiring the clean lines of a cashmere sweater paired with a pair of palazzo pants or the silver sheen of a column gown that is the essence of the Armani idea of glamour, the designer’s consistency and identity are always on full display. Giorgio Armani has always been about true style, not fickle fashion, and Armani/Silos is the ultimate manifestation of the singular and laser-like vision of a man who is the undisputed maestro of Italian design.
Here’s a virtual tour around one of the exhibition spaces inside Armani/Silos: