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Italian designer has design on China
By Chen Jie ,China Daily
Updated: 2004-04-19 08:56

I did not expect Giorgio Armani would dress formally for our interview, but I was a bit surprised to find him in such casual attire: a dark blue long-sleeved T-shirt, casual trousers of similar tone and a pair of white loafers.

But what really amazed me was that I was told this is the only outfit he wears in public when touring around the world.

It's hard to imagine the designer of so many collections of classic and elegant suits for men never wears them himself.

However the simple and casual style definitely is an expression of Armani's philosophy of fashion.

On a mid April afternoon, the world-renowned silver-haired, bronze-skinned designer was sitting in the George Armani boutique in the lobby of the luxurious Peninsula Hotel, looking through the full-length windows at the pedestrians dressed in various styles walking the streets in Beijing's unusually early summer.

It was Armani's first visit to the boutique, his first retail store in China, which was opened in 1998. However he looked very much at home in the elegantly-decorated boutique receiving Chinese journalists and foreign media correspondents.

The 10-hour-flight from Milan with a stop in Frankfurt did not seem to have tired the 69-year-old Italian. Although it was his first visit to China, he has great expectations for his business here, and has opened stores in Beijing, Dalian, Wenzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong over the last five years.

He is here to open a 1,100-square-metre flagship store on Shanghai's Bund and will then present two catwalk shows featuring top-of-the-line women's and men's collection for spring/summer 2004 and a sneak preview of the coming autumn/winter 2004/05 collection in Hong Kong to celebrate the first anniversary of Armani/Chater House, the 3,000-square-metre multi-brand Armani store there, his second largest in the world, after the main outlet in Milan.

But despite his eagerness to see these two stylish metropolises, he has been very impressed with Beijing.

"I knew that the real China is very much different from what most Western people suppose, so before I set off, I made a point of doing some homework to bring myself up to date on the latest development in the country. But nonetheless the dynamism of Beijing overwhelmed me. It's a city with a nice balance of ancient history and culture and modernity," he told China Daily.

The designer went on to talk about Eastern elements in his design. "The culture and customs of Asia have always been an inspiration to me. This is a much overdue trip to one of the world's most remarkable countries."

Although he has never visited China before, Armani said that inspiration coming from things Oriental can be found in books and films.

"Through its plot, characters, and the customs it depicts, a novel with no illustrations can open my imagination to worlds I have never been to," he added.

Armani mentioned that Bernardo Bertolucci's Oscar-winning movie "The Last Emperor" taught him much about Chinese history at the end of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and of people's way of dressing at that time.

"Traditional Chinese dressing is different from that of Western people. In my eyes, Chinese clothing is relatively simple and casual and the fabrics are very natural, some hand-made. All of these ideas I have used in my men's collection."

But Armani himself might not know that "The Last Emperor" which inspired his imagination of China is not very true-to-life.

Armani is accompanied on his tour of China by Hollywood Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino and Armani "ambassador lady" Helen Taylor. They are only two of a number of entertainment stars that wear dresses designed by Armani.

Armani also designs costumes for the famous male Flamenco dancer Joanquin Cortes, their collaboration beginning in 1995. Armani has designed costumes for several of his shows, the latest of them being "Love and Hate" which premiered in Milan on March 15 and 16.

When asked whether he would like to collaborate with Chinese film and theatre stars, Armani said he would love to. "If they come to me, it will be my pleasure to design for them."

When talking about Chinese designers or brands, Armani shook his head, saying sincerely that he knows none of them but would like to meet some of them while he is here.

Turning to the industry, Armani, president and chief executive of the Armani Group, has much to say.

"We have two markets, the products market and the consumers market. China is a huge consumer market and Chinese people have more and more purchasing power. That's why we are expanding here."

In February Armani Group signed a management agreement with the House of Three for the opening of the Shanghai flagship store.

Three on the Bund, which is owned and operated by the House of Three, is a lifestyle destination bringing contemporary fashion, art, dining, culture and music together in its historic seven-storey building on the Bund.

He said: "Today's Shanghai certainly qualifies as the world's most talked about city. I am therefore delighted that we have secured such a prestigious and significant location for a flagship presence there."

He added that with the opening of the Beijing boutique in 1998, Hong Kong's Armani/Chater House in 2002 and now Shanghai's flagship store, the Armani Group has successfully established a signature retail presence in three of China's principal cities.

He disclosed his plan to have a network of between 20 and 30 independent stores in China's most important cities by 2008.

Armani/Three on the Bund will be divided between a Giorgio Armani boutique covering 560 square metres and an Emporio Armani store covering 420 square metres on the ground floor of Three on the Bund. There will also be Armani Fiori (florist) and Armani Dolci (chocolates and con-fectionery) counters within the development.

Handel Lee, co-chairman of House of Three, explained that Giorgio Armani is recognized as one of the world's most important designers. He is credited with creating an iconic style that is modern yet timeless, elegant yet accessible. This philosophy exactly mirrors the vision for Three on the Bund. Along with Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani, visitors to Three on the Bund will be able to take in the Jean-Georges, David Laris and Whampoa Club restaurants, New Heights rooftop lounge cafe, the Third Degree music room, the Three fashion store, Evian Spa, and the Shanghai Gallery of Art.

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