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Giorgio Armani Takes His Cruise 2020 Collection to Japan

By Kames Narayanan

Giorgio Armani at a model fitting prior to the show.
Giorgio Armani at a model fitting prior to the show.

Fashion knows no boundaries, in both the literal and figurative sense of the phrase. The industry’s interim cruise (otherwise known as resort) collections have, with every season, taken to far-flung locations just as they have built picture-perfect sets that transport the audience to awe-inspiring destinations. While cruise collections have planted flags on destinations across the globe, Italian designer Giorgio Armani has persisted on keeping his runway presentations close to home.

Armani’s purview detracts from the fashion circuit’s knack for setting the world up to be its stage. “I do not agree with this. After all, resort collections are mainly commercial; they have to be saleable and appeal to buyers,” said Armani at a press conference prior to his cruise 2020 showing.

If he were to take his cruise collection beyond Milan, it would be within good reason. For cruise 2020, Armani presented his eponymous label’s runway presentation at the capital of Japan, Tokyo. The impetus for the move, unlike at most fashion houses, had little to do with the inspirations the designer drew from the city but instead it was a paean to the brand’s longstanding relationship with Japan.

Unbeknownst to most, Armani’s influence in Japan dates back to the former years of his career. “I opened three stores there in the late ’80s because I could see that the Japanese customer would relate to my creations,” said Armani in an exclusive interview released by the brand. “My dialogue with the Japanese customer and with the citizens of Tokyo has been on-going since: in 1998 my Spring/Summer collections for Giorgio Armani were presented in Tokyo, and in 2005, the touring retrospective exhibition of my work organised by the Guggenheim Museum was put on at the Mori Art Museum in the city,” he continued.

At present, the Italian maison counts 90 points of sale throughout the country. Amongst its boutiques is the Armani/Ginza Tower, a sprawling compound with an extensive retail space, restaurant and spa (the maison’s first), which opened its doors in 2007. Last year, the multi-level flagship store underwent a facelift and expansion spearheaded by Armani himself.

As a timely toast to its reopening, the designer hosted the maison’s cruise 2020 collection at the capital city. “I am very happy to return to Tokyo on this occasion, it is an extraordinary and very evocative city, where the modern exists side by side with the ancient, with no sense of contradiction. It is a place that fascinates me for its modernity and its pulsing life, the perfect backdrop to present my Giorgio Armani men’s and women’s resort 2020 collections,” he said.

Tailoring was approached with ease at Giorgio Armani's cruise 2020 collection where the silhouettes are slouchier and offer more room for movement.
Tailoring was approached with ease at Giorgio Armani's cruise 2020 collection where the silhouettes are slouchier and offer more room for movement.

While the idea of Japan as the backdrop of a cruise collection would typically conjure images of its vast natural landscape or perhaps its high octane city lights, Armani deviated all expectations. The location for his ready-to-wear presentation was the Tokyo National Museum sans elaborate, showy sets. In the same subversive manner, his line-up of more than a hundred looks had little, if anything, to do with the country at all.

Armani kept to his signatures. The collection was built around Armani’s flair for tailoring imbued with a sense of ease appropriate for the season. On the menswear end, suits were cut in boxy silhouettes, while on the female counterparts the shapes were taken in slightly at the waist for just enough definition. Fluidity here was key — the clothes moved with the body. While tailoring, and its many reiterations, is a well-trodden path at the Italian label, Armani still managed to surprise with unexpected, borderline fetish, leather harnesses layered over tailored suites that called out for attention.

As the collection unveiled itself, the looks progressed into a repertoire of eveningwear as a touch of opulence kicked in. The muted colour palette led into punchier primary hues of reds and blues, and embellishments were taken to with a liberal hand as the collection drew to an end.

From the visual vocabulary of Armani’s repertoire for cruise 2020 collection alone, any parallel is lost between the man, the brand he has created and what he has come to call a city that holds dear to him. But in taking a step back and considering his design ethos for the collection, which he described in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily as “a condensed version of my style, which has remained consistent over the years — like an island in the fashion system”, the connection that Armani shares with the city draws apparent.

Like the Japanese, who are sticklers for tradition that is carefully preserved through generations, Armani too has safeguarded his approach to design. Yet, the brand is in no way stuck in a standstill. Within this premise, the values that the Italian designer shares coalesce with the city to birth a uniformed method of functioning.

Armani kept to a cool, pastel colour palette that eventually led into brighter primary colours. Womenswear suiting was also key for the cruise collection.
Armani kept to a cool, pastel colour palette that eventually led into brighter primary colours. Womenswear suiting was also key for the cruise collection.

In the following email transcript, Armani’s decades-long love affair with Japan is recalled by his bookmarked locations throughout its cities:

What are your favourite local traditions or customs?

Tokyo always surprises. I love the fact that you can still see women dressing in traditional kimonos, which make them look so elegant. And I am fascinated by the art of bonsai, which seems so precise and rigorous. One thing I also found intriguing is the practice in January of business people buying embellished bamboo branches called fukusasa, which have been dressed with lucky charms. I am a big fan of bamboo as a material – my Armani/Ginza Tower even features a stylised representation of bamboo as a motif on the exterior of the building.

What are the places you like to visit?

I like the Mori Art Museum [as] it was here in 2005 that the travelling retrospective exhibition of my work organised by the Guggenheim Museum was shown. I also really like Le Corbusier’s National Museum of Western Art. [It] is the only East Asian building by the French modernist. It’s impressive both inside and out. I also like the Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginza.

What are your favourite monuments? Historic and new?

I know that it is a favourite tourist attraction, but I do like the 7th-century [built] Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa, which is Tokyo’s oldest. I believe. It’s exactly what I imagined a Japanese temple to be like before I saw one in person – all ornately decorated wood and slightly curved, tiered roofs; and lots of the colour red! I also very much like the Meiji Shrine, which is a 20th-century Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, his wife. But while I really love ancient Japanese architecture, I am also a fan of the modern genre too. Indeed, my Armani/Teatro space in Milan was designed in collaboration with Tadao Ando, and I have given over the Armani/Silos to an exhibition of his work ‘The Challenge’, which is currently running. And the Issey Miyake Museum, created by the Japanese architect, is one of the places I plan to visit on the occasion of my next trip to Tokyo: the model of the building really fascinated me.

Your favourite restaurants?

Because of my diet, I cannot indulge in the pleasure of Japanese food like I used to. So when I travel, I always try to find places in any city I visit that can replicate Mediterranean-style cooking.

Which are your favourite shopping areas?

I have an affinity with Ginza but I also like to wander around Omotesandō, which like Ginza, is a showcase of many different modern architectural styles, particularly of fashion stores. However, it is in Omotesandō's side streets that you discover surprises. These have a great atmosphere and are full of small boutiques and bars and restaurants. I also like to look for antiques in Roppongi, which specialise in Japanese furniture and baskets.

What is your go-to place for gifts, or pieces unique to the area?

There is a small stationer that I like, which says so much about the Japanese attitude to design and craft. It’s called Tokyo Kyukyodo and was founded in 1663. It sells incense and Japanese paper and materials for calligraphy. It feels very genuine, and I like the fact that these everyday objects are so simple, and yet so beautiful. I always go home with a bag full of Japanese paper on which to work. Last time I visited Tokyo, I remember I bought lots of incense and some Japanese brushes for calligraphy; I also bought several big rolls of kimono fabric and some wooden clogs, of the sort that you wear with a kimono.