Inside Teatro Armani at the Giorgio Armani FW2013/14 Runway Show

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Last night an email from WordPress reminded me it was exactly one year ago yesterday I started this blog, and here I am one year and a lot of shopping and blogging later at what must be one of the world’s premiere live events for men’s style and fashion. I have to say I am giggling slightly to be here, and enjoying the experience immensely – thanks very much, once again, to Monica and Gianluca, as well as Roberto and Stefano in Florence for allowing me to come to this event. One year ago I just wanted to track progress of a fun little project, and now I’m here watching the absolute epitome of style and elegance in person, and thousands of people hit this journal each week to find out what’s going on. To say it is a bit startling is an understatement…

The economics of the fashion collection and the runway

As I get ready for the trip to Men’s Fashion Week in Milan, I start to consider the purpose and economics of runways and collections.

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Giorgio Armani is relatively dismissive of the way some of his colleagues in the industry use the runway to attract attention through fads and gimmicks, rather than to display real product that real people will be able to buy and wear.

Armani rejects the fashion milieu, preferring to make and present wearable, stylish, and to some degree timeless clothing for people who see his prices as an investment. He has said that he is proud that 99% of his runway designs are available in his stores, compared to just 20% for other designers:-

I never sacrifice individuality for trend. I don’t ignore trends, but my point is to design clothes for people to buy in shops, not just for shows and photo shoots. Eighty percent of designer collections aren’t even produced.” — Giorgio Armani, quoted in Marie Claire

Those figures are interesting on a number of levels. I’ve noted once before that the vast majority of guests at a runway show are the buyers. What was not obvious to me before was that for a designer who relies on third-party distribution, those buyers in effect decide which pieces from a collection will make it into production and finally into the hands of the public, and which will not.

Giorgio Armani, who owns his own retail distribution channels, can sidestep the “editing” of his collection by retail buyers, and concentrate instead on producing and displaying what his customers have demonstrated they prefer, rather than the flights of fantasy some designers create to generate buzz.

Given the huge cost of a runway show – and based on my own experience with simple trade shows, I imagine $1-$2 million is a fairly easy amount to spend on developing a 10 minute production featuring dozens of prototype outfits, supported by numerous models, dressers, sets, lights, sound, photography, video, PR flacks, transport, hotels, and side events – this means Armani is not doing his shows for the same reasons, for the same benefits or with the same high risk as other, smaller producers.

Even if they do not spend those sums on each show, a small, pure-play fashion house, like say Vivienne Westwood (who has a runway at 3PM today in Milan), turning over $25-$50 million, is to some degree rolling the dice through these shows. Over a whole year of shows a company of that size is betting a fair chunk of the company’s annual profits that somebody will like 1/5th of what they show; but largely unsure – excluding the obviously deranged outfits designed to grab headlines – which 1/5th it will be.

For a small label, the bi-annual runway-fest is a huge expense, a high risk gamble on tastes and fashion, and they need to ensure the label gets some moments in the sun, usually through the outrageous or bizarre. For Giorgio Armani it is a relatively low-cost PR event that reminds his loyal customer base that he makes great clothes that sit above fashion, and that there is something new to buy in his stores.

Armani is sometimes derided by his peers as being uncreative or uninspiring because he does not produce those silly, shouty outfits that build a reputation for “artistry” or “creativity”. I disagree with that aesthetic assessment, and wonder if those commentators fully understand the fundamental difference between these business models.

I suspect they do not.

[Photo credit: Getty]

Milan Men’s Fashion Week starts tomorrow

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While the London Collections: Men, run by the British Fashion Council this past few days, has focused on bringing on a host of relatively new or minor British designers, the Milan Men’s Fashion Week is a cornerstone of the annual global fashion calendar, and focuses squarely on the big guns of Italian style and fashion. Hosted by the CNMI, Milan is a home turf showcase for all the major Italian brands and a handful of the international ones like Jimmy Choo, Burberry and Marc Jacobs too.  The schedule of runway shows is here, with many of them streaming online. I personally will be making my first visit ever to a fashion show, and starting at the very top: my “virgin” runway experience will be the Giorgio Armani show on Tuesday morning. I hope to offer the gentle readers of this blog some live-ish updates from inside and around the event. Many thanks to Monica and Gianluca for the invitation and arrangements, much appreciated.

Invited to the Giorgio Armani FW2013 Runway Show in Milan

The new year is off to an interesting start: I just got an email that confirms I’ve been invited to the Giorgio Armani FW2013 event at Teatro Armani during the upcoming Milan Men’s Fashion Week.

I understand I may even get to meet Giorgio Armani briefly – luckily I now have plenty of things to wear.

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What can I say? I was not expecting this at all and did not solicit it, but I am delighted to have been invited to the show. It turns out I was invited – at least partially – because of this journal. And since Fall/Winter is the season I prefer, I am genuinely looking forward to seeing what is coming in the 2013 collection. I hope it will be spectacular and lots of fun.

Stay tuned for more updates on this quite cool adventure, which keeps getting more and more fascinating.

[Photo credit: Reuters]

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…