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.
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.
Another week, another set of flights half-way around the world on business, and a chance to check out the availability of Armani clothing on another continent. This time it is Washington DC and Virginia in the USA.
I am aware that Giorgio Armani has full-scale boutiques in the USA, having seen them before – prior to this little adventure – in Las Vegas and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills many years ago. But finding one in this region of the USA was a non-starter. The nearest I could find were smaller store-in-stores in larger high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue in malls like Tysons Galleria – nice and new, but a far cry from the inspirational galleria in Milan, home to the original Fratelli Prada shop:-
Milan’s Galleria Emanuele Vittorio II, also known as il salotto di Milano (Milan’s drawing room).
What was also disappointing, but not surprising, is that these stores carry a sub-brand somewhere between the black label Giorgio Armani and the more egalitarian Emporio lines, called Armani Collezioni. I had a good look at the clothes in this range, and I think Collezioni is much closer in quality (and price) to the Giorgio Armani RTW lines – in fact so close I bought one black polo shirt.
It’s a practical way to scale Armani clothing across this huge market, and also a way to keep shops stocked at lower cost (the polo shirt was made in Turkey, not Italy as would be the case with pure Giorgio Armani), but it’s not the same.
The luxurious nature of shopping in the boutiques is on another level entirely, at least in my experience. The attention I received in the Milan boutique in January, or in the Florence boutique in December, was incredible. Clearly they want to sell me clothing, but they see that I am a serious buyer who knows the Armani Code, and react accordingly.
As just one example they altered a knitted cardigan (again, that word “cardigan” does not do the garment justice) by taking off the knitted sleeves, shortening them by 2 centimeters, and then sewing them back on again, flawlessly, in just one hour. Now, all GA boutiques have in-house seamstresses/tailors, and they are all good – the Florence and Munich ladies are great. But my attendant in Milan told me that store has 11 seamstresses in-house waiting to make alterations. Eleven.
And now that I am a regular customer, the prices in the Giorgio Armani stores are slightly more accessible – this simple black polo had zero discount because Saks don’t see my Armani shopping record on their database, whereas the Milan GA store definitely did see my record, and offered me 10%-30% offsets from the tag price.
So overall this was not the most exciting or rewarding or financially astute shopping I have done for Giorgio Armani clothing, but I hope that I will get a chance to give America a fair shake through a visit to the serious boutique on Rodeo Drive before too long. Stay tuned for that Hollywood update.
A recent comment on this blog pointed out that while Mexico City may not have it’s own standalone Giorgio Armani boutique, it does have a store-in-store within Saks Fifth Avenue in Santa Fe.
Tokyo Ginza is also replete with many luxury-branded store-in-stores in the big department shops like Isetan, Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya. Mitsukoshi Ginza, for example, contains a Giorgio Armani mini-store:-
This boutique was a small but fairly standard representation of the Fall / Winter 2012 collection, and also contained a small rack of about 15 pieces from the new Spring / Summer 2013 collection. I had assumed that they only displayed a few pieces of a new season as they were being released and shipped slowly, but interestingly the assistant said she had almost the entire collection available, with many more new season pieces not on display, and could bring them out if I wished to take a look.
This again makes me think about the clever retailing policies at Armani stores. At the Ginza stores, all the assistants said that sales “maybe” start in January, while they slowly start to release the new collection in a way that will minimize impact on the current season’s sales. Meanwhile in Europe I know that many stores have already started seasonal pre-sales – in fact I have received email promoting them since about 8 December. I will write about the seasonal sale cycle in the next entry, stay tuned.
Store-in-store is OK, as far as it goes, but it seems a bit cramped and can’t quite achieve the same degree of Armaniesque style and range that you see in, for example, the London store. Having seen this concept in the flesh, I am not such a big fan, but given that Armani has these store-in-stores, it makes me wonder again why the major airports are not a target for the Giorgio Armani brand. Emporio is strongly represented, and you can’t turn your head without seeing Armani cosmetics. But the high end boutiques with a similar range to a store-in-store in airports? No.
A little odd. I will have to figure this out.
By a streak of luck I not only found a nice pair of pants (that I noted, for purchase later this month while in Milan for some Xmas sales shopping at Giorgio Armani HQ), but also happened to be at Giorgio Armani as a special show called Eccentrica was going on on the secret 9th floor of the Ginza megastore building. The exhibit, on it’s last day of a short run, features quite a range of Privé gowns with a very Japanese bent, as well as some quite startling bits of personal decor, like this glass flower arrangement. I don’t think I will ever be a haute couture customer.
My first private invitation, to an evening vernissage hosted by Giorgio Armani Munich. Naturally this is a commercial event, designed to keep regular customers like me engaged with the brand, and the timing is almost certainly linked to some promotional activity happening towards end of September, possibly the end-of-season sales that will take place before the new Spring/Summer 2013 collections arrive. Still, it’s nice to be asked to an evening filled with models, GA clothing and champagne.
En route to Dallas, Texas. I am intrigued to find out if Dallas has a Giorgio Armani boutique. It’s not exactly Armani country, but then again it is oil-rich. On the positive side I am dressed from head to toe in Giorgio Armani for the trip, and my bag contains a nice new suit purchased earlier this week, so at least the brand will be well represented for a couple of days.