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.
My work sometimes takes me to quite interesting, far-flung, even exotic places, like Rio de Janiero in Brazil, Dhaka in Bangladesh, or as this past week, Shanghai in China. Shanghai is one of the most incredible destinations, full of vigour and bounce, and it’s also one of Asia’s most energetic and fast-moving fashion hubs. I hope to have enough time to visit two Giorgio Armani boutiques during this trip, as well as some of the other high end stores, and prove those points by exploring the way the face of Shanghai fashion has changed over the past decade.
It is often said that the luxury industry is immune from recession; the wealthy will keep shopping no matter what the macroeconomic environment.
And there is some truth to that – not complete, but a strong element. Recent newspaper reports are rife with big upticks for the major brands, despite continuing global economic woe.
As witness I present to you a couple of recent developments in downtown Munich.
It’s well understood locally that Munich itself is almost recession-proof; economic downturns seem to skirt past this city, which is fundamentally very wealthy and enjoys a tax-base supported by successful local family-run businesses – like BMW.
Firing the starting gun for expansion is Louis Vuitton, moving from a smaller store on Maximilianstrasse to a massive new “maison” nearby, the Residenzpost, in the heart of historic Munich.
This location used to be just slightly more utilitarian – it was a Deutsche Post office until a couple of years ago, before the entire block underwent a very expensive renovation/gentrification.
This store is now a world-class LVMH expansion, with three enormous floors featuring pretty much every LV product known to mankind. There is even an LV promo video for the new store. And even at 10:05 AM on a Monday morning there were quite a few people shopping.
This move changes the dynamic of the nearby shopping district immensely. Perhaps not by coincidence, Prada, situated literally just across the street, has decided the time to expand is exactly now, and I would not be surprised to see a few other expansions, refurbishments or relocations in the near future. Belstaff (which is, in my opinion, one of the most unlikely luxury brands ever; when I was young Belstaff was what bikers bought when they couldn’t afford leathers) already opened a brand new store nearby.
But beyond the local environment, this is a telltale of the continuing global success of luxury brands, even the smaller ones in the PPR Group (now called Kering) like Stella McCartney and newly acquired Christopher Kane, about whom I will write a dedicated story later, and Giorgio Armani is no exception.
Globally the tide is lifting all luxury brands. When will it end?
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.
Corso Venezia 37, Milan. Situated just off the edge of the quadrilatero della moda, this was the location of Giorgio Armani’s first “official” design office, setup in two rooms in this building in 1973 when Armani was already 39 years old, and partially financed by selling a second-hand VW. While at this point there was no corporation – it was founded two years later – Giorgio Armani established this office and ultimately the company with his companion and business partner Sergio Galeotti. Galeotti ran the business end of the company during the early years of high growth and rapid success, until his untimely death in 1985. Most of the work carried out here was design consulting business for labels like Cerutti & Zegna, including runway styling, during which period Armani formed what was to become a recognizable house style. I find it interesting to see how such huge companies start out in life – the means and mechanisms applied to achieve success are often lessons that can be learned and re-applied in other circumstances.