A long-overdue upgrade to the Armani.com website was just released in the last day or so, and it’s a good overhaul. The old site was long-in-the-tooth and quite tedious to navigate, but this one is fresh and contains a lot more interesting and easily accessible content; it looks like somebody at Armani has begun to sit up and take much more serious notice of the power of the internet to drive business. There are a lot of new features integrated, including the usual handful of social media links, very much more accessible catalogue and video content, and most important for me, a much improved store locator. The online store is more tightly integrated, again with more sophisticated graphics and video, but as usual the black label Giorgio Armani lines are not available on the internet. A very welcome change.
Typically I’m a bigger fan of the Fall/Winter styles, but this is a knockout Giorgio Armani collection for next summer. Numerous excellent, soft jackets, some with really outstanding lapel details and interesting gorges; pants that derive gently from the sportier FW2013 collection, and most importantly models who look like they can wear these clothes properly in the real world. There were even some shoes I really liked, which is unusual. Sometimes when you talk to Giorgio Armani boutique staff they will discuss which collections have been strong or weak sellers, but I can already see that SS2014 will be a popular direction, and I’ll personally be picking up several of these items. Awesome collection.
Despite a pretty tight work schedule in Shanghai last week, I had a couple of hours (and a central location) that gave me the opportunity to check out not just one, but two Giorgio Armani boutiques: the original flagship store situated directly on Shanghai’s famous Bund, and the one located within the very upmarket Plaza 66 skyscraper on Nanjing Road. In this post I will explore the 3 on the Bund location.
Giorgio Armani opened this store back in 2004 (you can still find the press release online), as a way to shine the spotlight on the GA brand in China. The Bund was – and still is – one of the most highly trafficked tourist areas in Shanghai, both for Chinese and foreign tourists, and it seems that the position was selected mainly to ensure the Giorgio Armani name was suitably prominent. Many other luxury brands such as Cartier followed suit.
The Bund, however, was never considered a prime retail location; rather more of a branding exercise, with large crowds browsing but rarely buying. Piaget’s chief executive Philippe Leopold-Metzger summed it up nicely: “Locals don’t go to the Bund to buy luxury goods, and those that go to the Bund don’t buy luxury products.” If you walk around that area in the evening, you can see the truth in that statement. There’s an amazing and atmospheric view of the Pudong skyline across the river, but the Bund is more about tourist sight-seeing than high-end shopping.
That dynamic has had a natural impact on the Bund, as other areas of Shanghai such as Jing’an have become more important as serious, affluent retail locations. The staggeringly huge and opulent Plaza 66, which I will cover tomorrow, is in the centre of Jing’an on the Nanjing Road, and you can see why those who shop for Gucci, Prada, Vuitton, Armani and Versace would prefer to spend time and money at such exclusive and elegant locations.
The result is a migration of premium brands away from the Bund in recent years. Like many things on the Bund, such as the slightly down-at-heel Waldorf Astoria just next door, this area has lost some of its sheen, and the luxury brands have moved on to more fashionable addresses. The GA Bund store actually closed it’s doors earlier this year, and the ground floor of it’s former address, 3 on the Bund, is now just an empty shell.
There are still signs that this was once a Giorgio Armani flagship store; on the windows you can see the shadows of the branding manifestations, the name plate inside the building lift features “Giorgio Armani”, and inside the store you can still see the remains of the decor – the mirrors, spotlights and rolled white linear wall coverings that pre-date the current warm beige stone.
By pure fluke, I managed to be the last person to see the GA name plate within the building; I visited the store one rainy evening last week, taking a few snapshots, and by the very next day most of the branding was gone, because the old GA store had been turned onto a new Shanghai bar literally overnight. I personally watched the workmen moving the equipment in on Wednesday (you can see some of them inside the old store in the internal photo above), and by Thursday evening the bar was up and running in full swing. Inside there was still the old decor, even the changing rooms, hidden behind scaffolds of spotlights and a complete bar constructed in under 24 hours.
It’s slightly sad to see what was once deemed to be the epicentre of Shanghai style turned into a hastily assembled cocktail bar, but on the other hand you can sense that this area no longer fits the brand. Tomorrow we’ll visit the impressive Plaza 66 skyscraper, and see where the Shanghainese shop for Armani nowadays.
Earlier today I was reviewing some runway shots from the Armani SS13 Privé collection and it struck me that this is the second time I have seen runway models making Giorgio Armani collections look a bit frumpy. Take a look at the faces of the models in the Paris haute couture show earlier this year to see what I mean (thanks to Vogue Italia for the pictures).
Now I freely admit that not all Giorgio Armani clothing looks great – maybe that is unexpected from someone like me, but even I don’t like every single thing I see on the racks or in the collections, especially some of the more patterned and obvious clothing. But some of those Privé dresses are stunning; just block out the faces of the models and see what I mean.
I noticed this also in the January FW 2013/14 Men’s show photos. And in that case it struck me that the models are too young to be wearing those clothes. The black label Giorgio Armani lines are designed for buyers in the 35-55 range, and yet the models all seem to be about 18-25 – callow youths, to borrow a phrase. I would prefer to see some of those looks, like the one below, being worn by a more solid, mid-30’s model – and I own that jacket, by the way, or maybe one very like it.
Now in that men’s collection Armani went very sporty, with tightly tailored pants and all kinds of interesting fabrics, textures and closures. But does that mean only the younger models can wear those styles? No. I don’t think some of the younger models can wear these clothes and move in a way that makes them come alive. They don’t have the physical and emotional presence to catapault those outfits into the real world. They look good, but not great.
In contrast, I saw some amazing women’s outfits in the February FW 2013/14 Women’s RTW collection, and in the SS13 RTW line , and in both those cases the models and clothes worked – the styling and line of the models blended with the nature and texture of the clothes. Look back at older shots of Armani models from the 1980’s – again they worked brilliantly, stunningly well.
My – perhaps obvious – view is that there needs to be a marriage of the clothes and the selection and styling of models wearing them, to give the garments the chance to glow and sparkle. I can imagine it is not always easy to get all the elements just right, even if you are a highly detail-oriented designer like Giorgio Armani.
But when it is right, and you see how these clothes were meant to work, they just explode off the page, and you want to have them in the real world, where they can, hopefully, work that incredible, subtle magic on your tired, lumpy, old, broken frame…
The show is over, the VIPs have been thanked and photographed snuggling with Giorgio Armani, and there’s just time for one final photocall to sum up the show and the look, before turning to the next show, the next season, the next look – and with the Armani Privé show on 22 January in Paris it’s not that far away…
It’s amazing to me just how quickly these shows pass by. I can imagine all the work that goes into creating each piece, and each one literally flashes past you in a few seconds. I must admit a while back I thought that people taking notes at these shows was a bit much, but now I can completely understand why they need to do that – you are looking at individual pieces, but also trying to spot themes and quirks, and they come at you very fast. But even from the 5th row you can see everything quite clearly – much more clearly than these photos show. It was a very nice show, congratulations on the new collection Mr Armani.
Some interesting new looks and details – beards and waxed moustaches (I shaved off a beard this morning – typical), ruby red velour pants, quilted smoking jackets, tightly tailored pants, a large number of manbags, and I think I even spotted some spats… it’s all very Sherlock Holmes, 1893 styles and colours brought up-to-date with new materials and cuts.