This article is from the (RED) edition of The Independent, guest-edited for 16 May 2006 by Bono. Half the revenue from the edition will be donated to the Global Fund to Fight Aids.

The wisdom of King Giorgio

She's the bright young star breaking all the rules. He's the grand master whose influence on the way we dress is felt around the world. In a rare interview, STELLA McCARTNEY asks Giorgio Armani about fur, fashion and film - and why RED is his new favourite colour


What is your earliest fashion memory?

My mother dressed in her best clothes, which were always simple but so elegant and sophisticated.

How did you mother and father influence your style?

My mother was the main reason I developed an interest in fashion. Though we grew up in post-war Italy and were very poor, she always ensured that my brother, sister and myself were immaculately dressed. She was herself an innately elegant woman. In memory of her I named my yacht Mariu, which is the southern Italian dialect for Maria.

Was there a moment when you realised that you wanted to be a designer?

There was not really a moment, but a gradual realisation. I studied medicine, which I soon realised I wasn't cut out for, and while doing so dabbled in photography. I went for a meeting with a woman at Milan's premium department store, La Rinascente, with some pictures I'd taken of my sister, to try to sell the images. She bought some and offered me a job as a window dresser. I dropped my studies to take it up. I suppose that was when I first started to think about fashion design.

The fashion industry is a symbol of capitalism. Is it possible for fashion to be politically correct?

It is a fact that, in the West, we live in a capitalist society, but that does not mean that we cannot be guided by the idea of a social conscience in our work. Yes, fashion design requires consumers to consume, but we can do our bit for society by running our companies in a socially responsible way, and by creating products that promote respect for social and environmental issues. There is also the possibility for power and influence to be a force for change.

Why did you make a commitment to RED/The Global Fund in particular?

I've been a long-time admirer of both Bono and Bobby Shriver's passion and energy when it comes to campaigning on social issues. So when they first described the potent yet simple idea behind RED, I was immediately won over. It is unquestionably a pioneering initiative. Unifying global brands for goodwill is both powerful and humbling, and requires the conviction of individuals like Bono and Bobby to make it happen.

The Pope is said to be reconsidering the Catholic Church's stance on condom use. Would this be a good thing?

Anything that helps to prevent the spread of HIV in Africa must be encouraged. The infection rate there is one of the fastest in the world, and it needs to be tackled in every way possible.

People are increasingly aware of the food they eat and the cars they drive. Do you think it's our responsibility to make people more environmentally aware when it comes to fashion?

I think that the most profound changes in society start with individual choices. If people want to change, they will. If they don't want to, it's hard to make them do so. The current interest in the environment is a good thing. The best way to make a contribution in fashion is to promote the idea that a fundamental interest in preserving the environment is itself fashionable. Beyond that, yes, of course we can work in ways that are more environmentally friendly, and create garments and products that promote the idea of environmental awareness. Recently, Armani Jeans was awarded the Eco Tex certification at Ecomoda, the Ecological Trade Fair, for the use of recycled polyester from bottles, and certified organic cotton from Peru (where we have been buying organic cotton from communities that once were dependent on the opium crop).

I refuse to work with leather or fur. What are your views on this?

I admire your commitment to this issue. As you're aware, I do use a limited amount of fur in my collections, but I try to do so conscientiously.

By producing collections every six months, are we encouraging people to consume more than they need to?

It's of course a problem; we need to renew our collections to evolve. I suppose that because my aesthetic tends towards the understated, and because I do not follow faddish trends, my clothes and accessories can be worn for several seasons.

In Britain, there appears to be a culture that embraces cheap clothes. Surely the more expensive the fashion, the more likely it is to come from ethical sources?

It would be a logical assumption that a higher price would equal a more ethical source - clothes made from more natural materials, by workers paid properly, in a decent environment. However, the culture embracing cheaper clothing that is evident in the UK is in my view more to do with the growth of "fast fashion", which has captured the attention of consumers in much the same way as "fast food" did.

You've been working for many years. How do your inspirations differ now from when you started?

My sources of inspiration are the same - travel, film, books, music and art; essentially the culture that surrounds me. However, as I have grown older, I've realised the extent to which I find people fascinating and inspiring. I love to watch people (those I know, and those I don't), and study mannerisms, expressions, the way they walk and hold themselves. People's characters are central to how I imagine dressing them. I believe that clothing should always celebrate the personality of the wearer, and not overwhelm it.

If you had to cite a single inspiration, what would it be? My father said his was hearing Elvis "for the first time".

Probably seeing films as a kid. It was like being transported from the harsh reality of life in post-war Italy to this magical place. The stars were so glamorous and larger than life that I wanted somehow to share in that. I think, at some level, when fashion opened up to me I saw how this might be possible and how I could create a glamorous, elegant world of my own.

You were the first person to base a press office in Hollywood. Do you think you started our obsession with celebrity?

People have always been fascinated by famous people and by Hollywood stars in particular, so I really couldn't take credit for such a thing. I established an office in Los Angeles to provide an additional service to our film industry friends because I've always been passionate about film. As a child, I used to go to Milan to the movies from the small town of Piacenza, where I grew up. At the beginning I loved westerns and Italian comedies, but later I fell in love with the neorealist films that inspired my good friend Martin Scorsese.

Today, the cult of celebrity has reached the point where the people wearing the clothes are often more important than the clothes themselves.

That's absolutely correct, and very disappointing. Unfortunately, this is tied to today's reality-show culture, which has created the phenomenon of the overnight celebrity, who, more often than not, has no more claim to fame than the 15 minutes of recognition they've already received. The growth of entertainment television and celebrity gossip magazines has also fuelled this trend. Unfortunately, there's little chance of this changing.

Are you excited about dressing the England World Cup football team?

I've enjoyed dressing soccer stars for many years. In many ways, they are the modern-day gladiators. Both on and off the field they have become icons. As a designer, it's always good to stretch yourself, and the challenge of dressing people whose bodies are fine-tuned and developed is one that I particularly enjoy.

You are rare in that you entirely control your own company. How important is independence to you?

It gives me the freedom to pursue projects and initiatives that I feel passionate about, even if in the short term they may not deliver a financial return.

Do you sympathise with young designers now that it's so difficult for them to establish themselves without a conglomerate behind them?

Yes, I certainly do. When I started with my business partner Sergio Galeotti, there was so much less competition. We were able to open a small office and pretend we were a professional organisation, when we really didn't know what we were doing. The company was funded by the sale of my VW Beetle - and you know what? We got away with it. Today, that kind of story would be unheard of.

What would be your advice to a designer starting out?

Remain true to yourself and your philosophy. Changing in the face of adversity will in fact diminish your credibility with your customers. Remember that, in the end, the customer doesn't know, or care, if you are small or large as an organisation - she or he only focuses on the garment hanging on the rail in the store.

I get the impression we share a common philosophy to give confidence but not define the personality. Do you see other similarities between our philosophies?

I think we share a desire to help people express themselves through their dress. This is different to the desire to mould the wearer to a particular look. The person should always come first, and the clothes should be a way of showcasing the personality. In my case, I try to do this through understatement and discreet glamour and elegance - and perhaps one could class this as a European approach. You have a more English, more idiosyncratic and perhaps eclectic aesthetic, but you still value the people you dress as individuals.

Does fame make you happy? And how do you guard your privacy?

I am in fact a rather private person, so the role that I sometimes have to play, attending fashion events and parties and giving interviews, does not always make me feel comfortable. But it goes with the job, and who am I to complain? I do a job I love to do, and if being recognised is the price I have to pay, so be it. I wouldn't say that I "guard" my privacy, I just try to live my life as normally as possible.

Yves Saint Laurent once said he wished he had invented jeans. Is there an item of clothing you wish you'd invented?

I suppose it would have been great to invent something as classic and enduring as the tuxedo. But if I was collecting royalties, I wish I'd invented the corkscrew.

What are you most proud of?

I suppose the fact that I pioneered a way of dressing that emphasised comfort, at a time when clothes were still being made in an old-fashioned and rigid way.

Does fashion ever bore you?

Only when it's bad!

Emporio Armani RED sunglasses are available now at Emporio Armani stores and selected stockists; Emporio Armani RED watch will be available this autumn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?