Giorgio Armani is in good spirits, wearing long dark blue Bermuda shorts and a dark brown T-shirt. He is tanned and resting at his home on the island of Pantelleria, an oasis of true luxury, very quiet and with a light breeze. It’s seven o’clock in the evening and, in the shade of old palm trees that the designer bought into his property from an aristocratic Sicilian family, it is time for tea and biscuits purchased at a local pasticceria. We are situated on a bluff, you can see the sea, and at about half past nine we will dine at another spot on the property, which is made up of lots of houses joined together by small paths that are lit after sunset by very many candles in simple black lanterns.
Giorgio Armani, this is the umpteenth August you are spending on Pantelleria. What is the reason for your thirty years of loyalty?
I’m a creature of habit. I love rediscovering what I have started, and here in this place I have started a great deal. At first glance it seemed to be a difficult island: I had always imagined an island as a place with white beaches and instead this is one big rock. My first impression was not one of easy living and there was nothing that was particularly attractive about this place. In those years everyone talked about going to Saint-Tropez, where you could mingle with the jet set people or go dancing at balls. Here, however, there was not even electric light.
But you have stuck with it?
Yes, the island has maintained its fascination, but nowadays it also has new facilities. The promontory where we are now is very beautiful and Sergio Galeotti and I decided we would make a home for ourselves here. From year to year I have added something: first of all I created the space where the swimming pool is, then this oasis with the palm trees and then the other houses.
What is it about this place, is it the great bathing, the great relaxing?
Every year I come here with many friends … I could show you a history of twenty-five years through photographs of the summers. The place itself does not alter, it is the people who change. I have tried to show the greatest respect to the nature of the place. I have dispensed with designer objects and there are just a few pieces I bought in the markets of Morocco. The colours are my quintessential grayscale, beige. As if they were made up of bright colours, strong and then filtered through nature, the sun, the wind. Then this house is a bit like a large boat, everyone has their independence, but there are certain rites to be followed, like there are on a boat. Before sunset candles are lit everywhere. Everything is well organised and the guests light candles everywhere. Everything is on schedule and my guests are familiar with some basic rules. For example, breakfast is taken in the morning with everybody together between the hours of nine and ten o’clock. In Milan I mostly see work colleagues while here I feel free to let myself go, even to become rather romantic; I like to open up here, I like to hear other people tell their own nostalgic stories. In the city you cannot do this, there’s not enough time.
What kinds of relationships do you have with your friends?
I am demanding and possessive. I give a great deal to my friends and I like to receive their loyalty and empathy in return. I do not want to exchange material things, I’ve been blessed by good fortune and that is not what matters. I want there to be a sense of understanding, in short what I really enjoy is that they make me an absolute priority. Spend twenty days with Armani and don’t go anywhere else. Armani wants you and you must come!
And who are those who you want?
First of all my family members, for instance my sister Rosanna, my nieces Silvana and Roberta and my nephew Andrea and their chums, as well my sister Rosanna’s little dog. Then there are the people I work with, like Leo and Graham and others. I have chosen to live without surprises. It is as if there is a love affair that becomes reinforced. I do not like playboy holidays where one goes in hope of adventure. Here we do not stay up too late at night because it is a crime to lose any hours from the coming day.
Do you have lots of people around so that you don’t get lonely?
No, because when I am alone it affords me long moments of contemplation. I think that to be alone means to think about all the good things that one has, about how the day is coming when none of this will any longer be ours. Life passes, mine is a life dedicated to my work, which I have confused with real life. My luxury is to say what I think. It is according to my own taste to discard a paradigm that does not fit into the world of Armani. And in the same way to discard whatever it may be that I do not like to have in my life.
What is about today’s world that strikes you?
Today what is considered desirable has become so because it has been proposed by the media. And furthermore fashion also suffers, at the moment when you put a bag with a dress that has nothing to do with it. Fashion must go hand in hand with being right minded, that’s what counts, and I am looking for poise and composure, equilibrium, both in material things and also in relationships.
In October the Guggenheim Museum in New York will put about four hundred of your garments on display.
Yes, selected from my archive, some are on loans made by the general public or by famous people. I realized how in the history of my work there are certain fixed points that return continuously. And it looks interesting, you see how the same theme can be interpreted in different styles according to the time. Black and white, for example, you can change the shape or the length, but it is always coming back into fashion, just as the ethnic or oriental also are. I try to distance myself from them, but I find myself always coming back. And what this comes to mean is that the oriental way of dressing is the most logical and the most comfortable. My objective is to make clothes that form an integral part of the body of a man and of a woman.
And what about being elegant?
At one time when we were talking about being elegant it meant only one thing, the most formal clothes: a black suit with a string of pearls for her, a double-breasted blue suit for him. Nowadays what is meant by being stylish is wearing what harmonizes with the atmosphere that one is experiencing at that moment of time.
How would one be stylish on Pantelleria?
With loose fitting cotton slacks, knee-length or calf-length shorts, and with loose knitwear running over the body with muted colours such as lavender blue, green, jade, orange red or colours that appear aged and mature.
But Armani, are you not the man in dark blue?
I am speaking about other people. It is true that for years I have been recognized as the man in the dark blue t-shirt, but there is that moment of awakening and becoming conscious of something, that you can also be in another way without betraying your principles. And so on Pantelleria I have experimented with my colours as I mentioned before, and with a certain success (he laughs).
You are about to open a large space in Milan in Via Manzoni. How will it be?
For me, having worked as an assistant in a department store in the Sixties, I have always been fascinated by the diverse and anonymous buying public, and this is a big gamble. Ever since then I have liked the idea of having a small store where one sells only what one likes, without having to say, “This is not beautiful, but it sells.” This is four thousand, five hundred square meters of space in which I am selling Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans, Armani/Casa – a new brand – and there is also going to be a Japanese restaurant, Nobu, a restaurant for young people that I hope will become a meeting place; as well as Sony, who will have a location there. For me it is a dream which has become reality.
Do you want to wake up a sleeping Milan?
To think I would be waking a sleeping Milan would be presumptuous. But strangely, in Milan there is a reluctance to adapt to new ways of life, and all new meeting places are places that are not immediately greatly frequented. Perhaps by doing so much I can insist that Milan really is able to change and certainly my space is something altogether new.
A drug store in Paris, a shop on Madison Avenue in New York and another in Soho, you never stop. The question is almost redundant, but in this work are there are no breaks?
There is a requirement for continuous updating which results from there being an extremely lively and active competition. Then, with the logic of today, one puts together a store that looks futuristic and after three years it has become outdated. Nothing lasts longer than a decade.
Everyone wants to buy what you make, do you feel under siege?
No, I feel gratified. When I hear prominent people talk about Giorgio Armani’s great success in the past five years and his amazing company it is a compliment that fills me with pride. My life has been a mad rush which has required the employment of all my physical energy, but I have become close to people who have given me a lot back, above all by accepting me as I am with all my contradictions.
You are still rebelling against the idea of being a prisoner of your own personality, and, if I understand correctly, you just want to be yourself?
Yes, but as I have said I have remained true to myself. Thirty years ago I saw Pantelleria with the same love and with the same eyes. Of course, since then I have seen the whole world, but I have never gone away from here.
Do you want a private life? (Armani laughs again)
More than anything else in life. I read about people who have economic power, who buy houses, who organize mega parties to gratify themselves. I have done this for the sake of my work, but to me all that is of little importance. When people see me, they recognize that what they have in front of them is a person who is perhaps rich, perhaps powerful in his field, who is recognized for his work in the world, but who has remained a normal human being with his own faults. It repays me well not to have taken advantage of the kind of envied lifestyle which is also very conducive to becoming a misfit.
Even when it comes to Milan?
Yes, because that is my reality.
Do you consider yourself an essentially loyal person?
Yes, I think loyalty is one of my points of reference.
20th August, 2000