Giorgio Armani Tokyo, Ginza

The Armani store in Tokyo’s Ginza district is what I would call an Armani megastore, with every sub-brand represented somewhere in the building, including Ristorante, Spa, Emporio and Privé.

According to the WSJ, this push to bring all the brands into a common retail platform was some part of a disagreement between Giorgio Armani and one of his most senior and trusted managers, John Hooks, who left his role as Deputy Chairman in 2011 after more than a decade at Armani.

So does the megastore concept work? Well, honestly: it does — and it doesn’t.

With it’s eager and friendly Japanese staff,  it certainly deserves it’s place as a flagship store for Armani. It is a spectacular store, with many nice details like the “VIP” fitting rooms, which are a cut well above what I have seen in other boutique locations:

And the sub-brands are separated by floor, so if you never want to see an EA7 or AX outfit, you can avoid them. But somehow as a total concept I miss the exclusivity that one gets in shops like the Knightsbridge Giorgio Armani, which is wall-to-wall black label. And the restaurant/cocktail bar on the top floors were nice, but seemed to me to be out of place. I get that Giorgio Armani clothing can help me feel like a well-dressed person; fine, thanks, they are awesome, and I may have picked up some nice pants in a location-branded shopping bag:-

But the entire lifestyle that those clothes are intended to fit  – shifted slightly off-key to allow the EA and AJ crowd to enjoy a cocktail or what was described to me by the head host as “fine dining” — shrink-wrapped in a minor city block?

No. That seems wrong. This Giorgio Armani customer doesn’t want to shop in a megastore. It seems out of balance — inelegant, in fact, which is counter to what the brand I am buying represents. And I think that leaves me feeling a little disappointed by this experience.

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Armani Tokyo / Ginza

A few years ago I researched the Japanese luxury fashion market for another project and discovered the Japanese love of high fashion and luxury clothing labels.

Probably there are very few people outside of the luxury market who realize just how crucial the Japanese predilection for high fashion is to the global industry, but when you learn that something like 25%-30% of all luxury clothing is bought in Japan, it takes on extreme importance to the big brands.

Japan’s consumption equals that of Europe or the USA, but with more than twice the per capita spending in those regions. One remarkable fact is that around half of all Japanese women own a Louis Vuitton handbag; in fact sitting here in the Senator lounge are two Japanese ladies, one of whom is toting Vuitton.

Japanese consumers gorge on high fashion labels like Giorgio Armani, and if there is one square mile on the planet that is a serious contender for black label ground zero, it is Ginza in downtown Tokyo.

I have been to Tokyo several times before, and shopping in Ginza as a bystander rather than a serious participant, but in an hour I will board an 11 hour flight to Narita for a mind-jarring 3 day visit to Japan, and along the way have a chance to go shopping – and even dining – at one of Giorgio Armani’s global flagship stores in central Ginza.

Ginza fashion shoppers are dedicated people: I remember seeing a line that literally went around a city block, including being split across a road crossing, for a new store opening in Ginza a few years ago. That devotion to the hardcore luxury labels, plus the high percentage of disposable income they transmit to the boutiques, makes them prime customers, and I hope and expect to see some unique local features in the next couple of days that will make this trip a highlight for Armani Man.

Giorgio Armani Addiction

Once again I survey the pile of receipts from recent shopping trips and wonder: is this excessive, compulsive or addictive behaviour? I don’t think so. I feel quite rational in my choices during shopping trips, constantly rejecting items the sales assistants bring for approval, carefully selecting only 1-2 items per trip – and sometimes nothing, if there is nothing that works. Frequently I will visit a boutique anonymously and leave without trying anything. But last week was a bit of splurge, for sure, the biggest since December: in total I spent around $7,500 on Giorgio Armani clothing, Prada shoes and a Louis Vuitton briefcase in just 2-3 days. While more than half of it is due to the briefcase, which I view as a one-time item, the rest seems to be related to the arrival of the new Fall/Winter collection, and the release of several new items that I liked. If this holds true, I can probably expect there will be larger waves of expenditure twice a year.

More Shoes from Prada

Back in December a savvy Giorgio Armani employee in Florence advised me that the only shoes that really go with Armani clothing are those made by Prada, and how true that has turned out to be. Giorgio Armani makes incredibly elegant, subtle clothes, but the shoes just don’t have the same degree of elan. Prada, on the other hand, makes wonderful shoes, and they look fantastic with Armani clothing; it is no coincidence, I think, that Giorgio Armani and Prada shops are typically co-located. Last week I purchased my fourth pair of Prada shoes, handing over US$465.00 with satisfaction. They are probably the most stylish and yet practical pair I have found to date, extremely comfortable and solid, good for work and leisure use. Wearing Prada shoes + Giorgio Armani clothes I actually feel very different, and it is a nice feeling.

Details at Giorgio Armani

The Giorgio Armani collar stiffeners shown in this picture came with a shirt I bought a few days ago, and are made of metal, something I have not seen in collars since I bought a uniform from Gieves & Hawkes of No.1 Savile Row in the mid-1980’s. Most people will never even know these are in the collar tips, and yet they carry the branding, stamped into the metal. I like the way that subtle, sometimes hidden details matter at Giorgio Armani; I have spotted several little details in my growing wardrobe that would be under-appreciated if you were not paying close attention.

A New Robusto Briefcase from Louis Vuitton

The past week has been one of my biggest splurges yet, with several trips to Giorgio Armani and Prada. And the week culminated with the purchase of a new Robusto II briefcase at Louis Vuitton, value US$3,300.

Vuitton? Me? Have I lost my mind? What happened to the Giorgio Armani project? Fear not, gentle reader. My goals remain Giorgio Armani pure, and I will give a broad update on where that project is after the first six months in further posts next week.

With hand on heart I can say that I did not intend to shop at Louis Vuitton. But I have recently been searching for a new business briefcase, and I was looking for something that would see me through the rest of my career – another 10-20 years – and something that offered the same principles I am building through my Giorgio Armani wardrobe: elegant, stylish, timeless, with modern yet noticeably classic design.

And as I walked along Maximilianstrasse in Munich, one particular case in the window of Louis Vuitton kept catching my eye: a beautiful, simple, elegant case that seemed just right. This bag turned out to be the bigger Robusto III (three sleeves), but I was quickly informed of the Robusto I and II, and the II was simply gorgeous.

Even after careful inspection, and realization that I was unlikely to find a better case, I was still highly skeptical of purchasing from this brand. All the logos at Vuitton were a bit off-putting, not to mention the thronging, somewhat grabby customers – what looked like a mix of the offspring of Arab oil magnates, Russian oligarchs and 6’2″ Bayern Munich footballers. I returned 3 times to look again and again, never quite commiting.

But I honestly could not imagine a better quality briefcase, and after 48 hours reflection I am now the owner of a Robusto II Taiga (dark grey) in textured cow leather. It is possibly the most discreetly logo’d item in the entire Louis Vuitton range – if you are not looking for the logo you will not notice it, which for Vuitton is really saying something.

Quite funnily, as I arrived for the purchase, I was carrying bags from both Giorgio Armani and Prada (more on these trips in other reports), and the assistant – a charming young man – was most surprised that I was not noted on the customer list. This oversight was quickly corrected, and I was warmly welcomed into the marketing database of another luxury brand.

Taking the underground train home carrying a heavily-laden Louis Vuitton bag made me realize the power of this brand. I have never seen so many people looking at me in my life…

How Giorgio Armani Collections Get Released

This is my first pass through a seasonal release, or at least my first pass knowing what is going on around me; during the initial pass in December/January I was Bambi-grade naive about the whole process.

Today I was browsing again in Giorgio Armani Munich, where the attendant ladies now recognize me, and I spotted immediately the new pieces that had not been there even a week ago. Naturally I selected some new garments, one of them a pair of trousers that remined me of the wonderful “gliding drape” shot earlier in the blog, the one of Bellucci, Bruni and Christensen striding gracefully toward the camera. Naturally the VIP discount kicks in, even on the brand new stuff, saving about $100.

This gradual release of a new collection got me thinking about the seasonal process at a Giorgio Armani boutique. Clearly these clever guys do not just drop all the new season’s clothes into the shops in one awe-inspiring delivery. Rather, they phase, stagger the release of clothes so that there is always a reason for regular customers – addicts – to check in again during the entire season. They tease you, letting you know something new is happening or coming soon, or that some event is planned for shortly in the future, giving you a reason to return and shop.

This is very intelligent strategy. By aligning product release with customer cashflow, Giorgio Armani can smooth their sales profile across the months, and I start to see the careful thinking that goes into running a brand like Giorgio Armani. I realize too that I am in a position to be able to chart the changes in Giorgio Armani marketing strategy week-by-week, plotting waves of seasonal releases, the discount policy ebb and flow, and the alignment with significant events like the big shows.

This is something I may well try to chart in a while. But already the broad strokes of how this business operates are becoming quite clear, and once you see the skeleton of their strategy it does have it’s own internal shape and elegance. It is a marketing machine, certainly, but there is a subtlety to it, and if you weren’t watching you would not notice what is happening.