Giorgio Armani on the joys of unisex
Simply sign up to the Style myFT Digest -- delivered directly to your inbox.
Giorgio Armani has always believed in wardrobe equality. When the Italian designer introduced his soft, languid tailoring in the 1970s and ’80s, he liberated men and women from the structured and sometimes stuffy looks that had previously prevailed. The “power” suit he designed was double-breasted with strong, sloping shoulders and – crucially – made without lining. He proposed something that was comfortable while still appealing to the era’s buttoned-up tastes.
While Armani’s designs have morphed in the decades since, encompassing sculptural, strapless gowns, plunging necklines and embellished bustiers, the brand has always been rooted in tailoring. “People often use the word ‘power’ when discussing ’80s tailoring,” says the 89-year-old designer. “But I believe in soft power, and I always have. Ever since I started deconstructing tailoring for both men and women in the ’80s, I have returned to this one idea – that a tailored garment should be comfortable and relaxed, so that the wearer feels comfortable and relaxed, as this will inspire confidence.”
Armani is expanding on the idea of a unisex wardrobe with the launch of the brand’s first collection designed to be worn by both men and women. “Having pioneered the idea of sartorial androgyny since the very beginning of my career, I thought it was the right moment to reaffirm it in a stronger way,” says Armani. “So far, [wardrobe equality has] been more of a continuity of colours, materials and shapes within gender specific wardrobes. This is the first collection entirely conceived to be worn by men and women.”
Available only in the UK, the collection launches in Selfridges this month and at the brand’s Sloane Street flagship store in December. It includes the Royal suit (£3,400) – a single-breasted, unlined two-piece in a dark melange wool – as well as the double-breasted, shawl-lapel Heritage suit, with broad, sloping shoulders and wide-legged trousers, which is available in a grey cupro (£2,840) or taupe cashmere (£4,800). There are also dramatic cashmere overcoats in dark grey (£4,450) or brown (£5,850), while basics and accessories complete the full wardrobe, including T-shirts (£880) and woolly V-neck sweaters (from £880), striped or patterned cotton shirts (£590), cashmere scarves (£490) and ties (£155).
The designs of the suits and coats are generous in volume, to cater to different frames. “It comes from design and engineering – from actively seeking to soften and relax the sartorial tradition,” adds Armani. “It’s not easy to create garments that look chic and smart but are also extremely comfortable, but that has always been my aim.”
Despite the steady casualisation of wardrobes and decreased demand in formal attire, Selfridges is banking on the suit’s continued relevance. Ready-to-wear tailoring is up 42 per cent year on year for the retailer, and it has expanded its suiting by more than 70 per cent over the past two seasons, including made-to-measure services. “We have grown and diversified our tailoring offer across womenswear and menswear, with customers seeking suits and separates in new ways and for different reasons,” says Bosse Myhr, Selfridges’ director of menswear and womenswear. “I think there is still a misconception that tailoring can be hard to pull off, but this collection shows that simplicity and form executed in considered fabrics works for everyone.”
Informality, rather than stiffness, is the key to wearing the suit today, says Armani. “A soft suit is just as practical as a tracksuit but, in daily public life, much more appropriate. It is also very versatile.” He says he looks to his staff and younger family members for inspiration; they mix old collections into new ones, often combining menswear and womenswear seamlessly. “The suit is often overlooked, considered old or too traditional,” he concludes. “To me, it remains the epitome of efficiency, modernity and ease.”