Left: fashion show by young Israeli designer Daizy Shely.

A master’s vision

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

Giorgio Armani is hosting the 14th edition of shows by young designers this month.

Giorgio Armani is hosting the 14th edition of shows by young designers this month.

Diego Marquez and Mirko Fontana, of Au Jour Le Jour (below and center).

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

Jacket by Malaysian designer Edmund Ooi (right).

Jacket by Malaysian designer Edmund Ooi (right).

Mitsuru Nishizaki, founder of the Japanese label Ujoh.

Mitsuru Nishizaki, founder of the Japanese label Ujoh.

Podium in the Teatro Armani, designed by Tadao Ando.

You can watch the show at the scary Wall of Death. Not for the faint of heart. /

Bikes drive insanely fast around the silo’s vertical walls. / The machine roars across the wood. Thanks to centrifugal force (and a bit of magic?), the crazy rider seems to levitate.

Dresses by Roman designer Stella Jean.
Veste en cachemire Berluti
Swiss designer Julian Zigerli.

Swiss designer Julian Zigerli.

Giorgio Armani may be a fashion maestro, but he’s got his feet firmly planted on the ground, keeping an eye out for budding designers, whom he’s been showcasing at the Teatro Armani in Milan.

The small world of fashion is oddly sentimental. It loves revivals, ferrets out the new, picks up scents in the air and has a single dream: to figure out the shapes and cuts of the future. Yet this world is also packed with complexity. Threading this impossible needle requires a certain level of sacrifice. From the production of clothes to the massive costs of fashion shows, young designers have to battle with dismal bottom lines and hard figures. Until recently, established names in the industry had rarely given them much help. But in the last few years, financial support has been more forthcoming, as with the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, for example, introduced in 2014. In Italy, Giorgio Armani was a pioneer of this movement, in a style of his own, by giving new designers the opportunity to show their work in his monumental Teatro Armani designed by Tadao Ando. This offers them huge tangible support as well as official recognition from one of the greats.

How did this idea of supporting young talents come about? Was it a political move, prompted by the lack of that kind of initiative in the fashion world? Or was it a more personal, almost paternal need?

This idea came to me simply by observing the world around me. These days and in many spheres, transmission between generations just doesn’t happen. It’s not an easy time right now, so I thought we should all try to send a strong message of innovation and progress. The future of the fashion and design industryand more broadly speaking, that of an entire countrydepends on the younger generations. Lending my theater to emerging designers is an initiative that I hope will help increase their visibility, while also promoting the growth of the business as a whole. But I am pragmatic, and I don’t like paternalism: instead of providing financial supportfunding a collection, for exampleI opted for this approach, because I think it’s more inspiring for the designers, and ultimately more effective in terms of media exposure. The success of a fashion house definitely depends on this as well.

How do you spot talent?

I have a team of keen observers who make suggestions and show me the work of new talents. I trust my intuition when it comes to choosing themit makes no difference whether or not they are similar to me in style. In general, I’m drawn to the work of those who demonstrate a strong, original point of view, and who are not afraid to explore and express it in a consistent way.

You are making the Teatro Armani available for shows. Does this include technical support, too (lighting, sets, etc.)?

Yes, exactly. In addition to the location, we also provide young fashion designers with our technical expertise, to help them organize their fashion shows.

This project allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in fashion. With all the information we are bombarded with, is it harder to get a clear idea of contemporary design now?

It’s because we have such a dramatically larger amount of information that we need to be much more careful in how we evaluate it. The first thing we have to consider in our work is realitywe have to design clothes for people, not just for the catwalk. The second point is consistency: we have to stay true to our own style over time. The public looks for enduring, reassuring values in a designer. The third thing we should keep in mind is, in my opinion, our vision: we must constantly keep our eyes open, and observe the world around us to understand and anticipate needs. The fourth point is individuality: designers worth their salt must be convinced of what they do, even if it means going against the grain.

Initially, you were supporting young Italian designers, but you began to look farther afield, to the entire world. Why?

It was actually a very natural step. The focus of my dialogue with the public is primarily Italy, of course, but I have a global vision and outlook. Besides, even the first fashion designers who participated in this project, such as Stella Jean, have an international outlook and stylistic vision that go far beyond Italian borders and style.

You started to build your empire after you turned 40. Does this support for new talent reflect your unusual career path?

It’s true, I launched my own brand at a mature age, when I already had quite a wealth of technical knowledge. Of course, this had an impact on the results and the success I achieved, because I knew exactly what I wanted to express and how to do it. Regardless of their age, I would advise young designers to be patient; finding your own style and your own voice is crucial, but it takes time.

Is there a specific designer you’re proud to have discovered?

It’s really impossible for me to choose one. I am proud of this project as a whole precisely because it has brought out different stylistic visions over the years, all of which are authentic and original. I think that this wide variety of voices is the best part of it.

What advice would you give to young talents reading this?

I would advise them to do their job with commitment and determination. To never forget reality or sacrifice pragmatism for creativity. To have a strong and personal point of view, because that’s the only thing that can really make a difference.

© Nicolo Parsenziani - Courtesy of Au Jour Le Jour - Giorgio Armani - Courtesy of Edmund Ooi

© DK Ogawa - Courtesy of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana - Giorgio Armani - Yves Suter

Sabine Devieilhe, the soprano Jaël Azzaretti and the stage director Clément Hervieu-Léger at rehearsals for Mitridate, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, February 2016.

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