Giorgio Armani Outlet Store, Como, Italy

Earlier in this blog I discussed designer outlet stores, and mentioned I would visit one or two just to see what they were like. True to my word, yesterday I visited the Armani Outlet store in a small village near Milan.

If I had made a special trip to visit the Armani factory outlet, I would have been a bit put out. Luckily I was passing the tiny village of Vertemate con Minoprio en route from Switzerland to Tuscany, so a short detour wasn’t a big stretch; but this is not an easy spot to find unless you go looking deliberately.

Unlike the Google StreetView image below, the building does now have a brand – Armani Outlet:-

And inside it’s a proper shop, with fitting rooms and decor almost to the same level of elegance as an Emporio Armani store, just a little rougher at the edges:-

But what became fairly clear fairly quickly is that this is not Giorgio Armani purist territory. The vast majority of clothing is Emporio, Collezioni or Jeans. There are a few Giorgio Armani pieces, but they are very few, and the kind of things that I would bypass on a regular shopping trip to a boutique. Sizes are also a bit hit-and-miss.

None of this is a surprise. Outlets started life as a way to move old, damaged or unsold goods, and the Giorgio Armani garments on display seem to me to be the overstocked, unpopular items and sizes. Equally apparent is that factory outlet stores tend to attract the price-sensitive mid-market customers shopping to a reasonable clothing budget. These are the guys who want to buy Emporio Armani but don’t want to pay for the service level and a prime retail location. These topics have been well studied by academics at my alma mater, INSEAD.

This project, in contrast, is deliberately at the high end of quality, design and therefore price, and it is not surprising I was disappointed and unsatisfied by the outlet concept. As I said once before, there is a cognitive dissonance in shopping at an outlet to achieve my personal goals.

Despite these drawbacks, after an hour of determined and disciplined browsing I did find one cashmere top and a nice leather belt, both with what looked like healthy reductions from full retail. The discounts look quite impressive at first glance, as you can see in this ticket from the jersey I acquired:

However, as low as these prices seem to be, they probably weren’t that far off an end-of-season 50% sale in a Giorgio Armani boutique, and for a purist the weak, out-of-date selection and small price differential just confirmed my original views: outlets are not worth a special trip for a dedicated black label customer building a wardrobe.

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The Cognitive Dissonance of Designer Outlets

Fairly quickly after you start researching designer clothing — actually within the first page of Google results — you find out about designer outlets.

Designer outlets are shops run by the brands in off-the-beaten-track locations. They offer what are basically remnants — over-runs, defects or out-of-season stock — at knock-down prices. The attraction for the shopper is the high discount to full retail to get branded products, which can be as much as 70%.

Although these shops provide a useful commercial function for the brands, the problem for someone trying to build a completely new wardrobe is that these shops have a reputation for being tourist zoos, and they tend not to have the sizes or items you would select if you had a full selection and time to choose.

The cognitive dissonance of this approach is that I believe part of the experience of becoming Armani Man is to enjoy the elegance and attentiveness of the shopping experience as intended by the designer, which is built into the high price, and to build a solid new wardrobe based on careful, thoughtful selection of the right pieces.

Hence the use of outlets, while attractive from an economic point of view, is in conflict with the aims of this project, and although I may visit one or two at Montevarchi and Barberino near Florence, just to see what they look like and report back, they will not be my staple source of Giorgio Armani or Prada clothing.

Instead I will be buying from the high-end Giorgio Armani boutiques, and writing about my experiences as I visit them on various trips around the planet.

I will still look for good deals, but based on seasonality, from the best locations.

This is how Armani Man shops.