Armani on Armani

In his first interview since the spring, Armani discusses his health, his upcoming collection, his business and the future of the industry.

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Spring bags by Armani.

Photo By Dave Yoder

MILAN — Giorgio Armani walks into the fitting room at his headquarters on Via Borgonuovo here and everyone jumps to attention, proving the “maestro” is back in full force. His team of assistants, stylists and hair and makeup people pause to await their instructions.

“Everybody out,” Armani orders and, wasting no time, he steps over to examine a model wearing one of his spring looks — a silk slit skirt over a striped sequined minidress in royal blue, pearl gray and bottle green.

The 75-year-old designer is visibly healthier than the frail figure he cut in June, when he presented his spring 2010 men’s collection, a month after revealing he’d been diagnosed with hepatitis. In fact, he appears reenergized and back to his in-control self. In an exclusive interview with WWD, Armani is relaxed and at ease, his mood ranging from joking to philosophical about his life and business.

“During my illness, I realized how much I need creative outlets,” he said, wearing a black jacket, shirt and pants and white sneakers.

Yet he admitted to reshuffling his agenda to take better care of himself and added there will be some “change from a managerial perspective — moves and promotions — that will be announced shortly.” Armani declined to go into detail, however.

“The illness made me understand that you can’t joke with your life,” the designer continued. “For years, I ignored myself completely until I received this blow, which happened for a reason. I realized I had to be more careful. All the stress and mental and physical possibilities take their toll.”

He also realized he should better appreciate all that he has.

“During my illness, I spent more time in my homes, in Broni, and discovered the pleasure of being with my cats, dogs and staff,” said Armani. “Before, I always felt like a guest in my homes, even if it’s tragic to enjoy the things you built thanks to an illness.”

Later, sitting behind his desk in his office, from where he commands his $2.38 billion empire, he talked of being overwhelmed by the kindness of well-wishers — some friends, some strangers — who have bid him a speedy recovery over recent months.

“It was incredible,” Armani said, citing a recent holiday on his yacht, when, on a rare trip to the beach, he was welcomed by locals.

But Armani is still Armani — he himself even joked about some of his more difficult character traits — and, despite ongoing speculation over the future of his company, he said he has no plans to ease up, even as he slows his schedule.

“I work shorter hours,” he said, taking a sip of a bright green water and mint drink. “I take a break between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and try to leave at 6 p.m.”

Here, in his first interview since the spring, Armani discusses his health, his upcoming collection, his business and the future of the industry.

WWD: As a self-confessed workaholic, was it difficult to step back and let go when the illness struck?

Giorgio Armani: Yes, even more so than the illness in itself because I’m so involved in every aspect of the company.

If possible, I don’t delegate, or I delegate but I control. Delegation does not mean, “Do it and goodbye.” That doesn’t exist for me because I see it in the choice of a lamp, in the preparation of a collection, in the selection of a location, in the rapport in the office, in so many things. I like very much to deal with everything across the board. Therefore, delegation goes so far as, “What would you have chosen as a solution to the problem, A or B?” If the choice of A seems good to me, fine. If not, it becomes B, or even Z.

But, I discovered that sentimental values should be cherished and well-handled. It’s important to not go back to being aggressive and nasty once the illness is gone. I will try not to.

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