Giorgio Armani, Shanghai : The Bund

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

En Route to Shanghai

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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.

Shopping for Giorgio Armani in the USA

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:-

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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.

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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.

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…

Dressing for the Giorgio Armani Fashion Show

If there is one conversation I never expected to have with myself or anyone around me, it is what to wear to one of the world’s premiere fashion shows.

And yet that is the problem I face this week… I have to figure out what to wear to the Giorgio Armani FW2013/14 show in Milan next Tuesday morning.

A phone call and email from GA contacts in Italy confirm the details of the show, travel and hotels are booked, and now I have to turn up wearing something suitable.

Naturally I will be going in almost all Giorgio Armani, that goes without saying. But:- Formal? Relaxed? A mix of the two?

I have turned to images of Mr Armani himself for some clues, and I think I am settling on a mix of informal t-shirt and cashmere sweater, plus a semi-formal smooth black suit with my favourite Prada shoes. To this I will add a recently acquired black overcoat, grey scarf and some sunglasses to add the final touches.

Meanwhile I have explained to my haircutter where I am going, and in return received almost regal attention to detail.

This is all quite strange for me – but also quite fun.

The birthplace of Prada, now a fashionable 100 years old

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Where it all began for Prada: the original storefront in the Galleria in central Milan, now part of a much larger Prada store in the central internal piazza. Founded 100 years ago this year by brothers Mario and Martino Prada (hence the “fratelli” in the signage above), Prada remained a small company turning over less than $0.5M p.a. selling imported leather goods until grand-daughter Miuccia Prada took over in 1978, started listening to Patrizio Bertelli, and begain designing tote bags from ballistic nylon. Today Prada is publically traded on the Hong Kong Stock exchange, with >$2.5B in revenues, and as already discussed, quite acceptable profit margins. As part of the BAM project Prada is my choice for shoes only; I now own five pairs of Prada shoes, and one pair in particular is probably the most comfortable and stylish pair of shoes I ever owned.

Stay tuned for lots of new BAM updates

I have a large backlog of stories I’ve been working on recently, and the next couple of weeks will see new entries on a wide range of subjects:

  • Giorgio Armani and the whole gay thing
  • An excellent visit to Giorgio Armani Florence, both alone and with my sister-in-law
  • Reportage from Milan Men’s Fashion Week, including the Giorgio Armani FW2013 show
  • Details on how to maximize your budget by accessing 40%+ discounts at Giorgio Armani
  • Giorgio Armani’s annual sales & marketing cycle
  • Discussion about fashion seasons shifting as markets in Asia and the Southern hemisphere open up
  • A close-up look at some of the major Armani corporate properties in Milan
  • Shots of various pieces in my personal wardrobe, showing how they work together.

Finally this journal will be moving later this week to an all-new, re-designed, hosted platform, with additional features and faster access.

Lots more to come from Armani Man – stay tuned.