Giorgio Armani: I fear for a world where the innocence of childhood is eroded by war and poverty

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The Independent Online

My friend Martin Scorsese once made a film of Edith Wharton's great novel The Age of Innocence. As I sit here writing this letter, it is that phrase which keeps coming back to me, like an echo.

I make no claim to be an expert on world affairs, and I am entirely aware that, as a fashion designer, I am involved in an industry which many consider - quite rightly - to be essentially ephemeral in the impact it has on most people's lives.

I write this, therefore, as an ordinary man. And, like many ordinary men, I observe the world around me and some of what I see saddens me.

In particular, I see a place where the innocence of childhood is being eroded by hardship and sickness, by fear and danger and poverty. What I take from this is that we are witnessing the end of the "Age of Innocence". It may surprise you to know that I can relate to this phenomenon in a very personal way.

Though I now live a very comfortable life, it was not always so. As I child, I grew up in war-torn Italy. I used to play in the streets with my friends - children have an incredible capacity to enjoy themselves despite the most dire circumstances, it's one of the characteristics of childish innocence.

One day we were playing with an unexploded shell, when it detonated, killing my friend and burning me from head to toe. I briefly lost my sight and had to be kept in a vat of alcohol to soothe my skin. I still have the scar on my ankle where the buckle of my sandal was burnt into my skin.

To this day, that event has affected me profoundly, and, when the war was over, I had to watch my mother foraging for food and see my father thrown into prison, along with all the Italian men who had worked for the state. I had my childhood taken from me by the Second World War, and so I can empathise with the kids I see in the papers or on the television who are also losing that special piece of their lives.

For it seems to me that today too many children are growing up in situations where the innocence and naivety of childhood that is rightly theirs is snatched away too early through war, famine, poverty or disease. Every day we see images of children who have suffered this fate in Iraq, in Lebanon, in New Orleans, in Sudan - the list goes on. There are so many conflicts going on in the world, so many countries defined as being in poverty, so many children living with Aids, inherited at birth, so many others living with unclean water, or without enough to eat, so many orphans, abandoned to a cruel fate.

For all of these children there has been no age of innocence nor will there be. So when Bono and Bobby Shriver told me about their plans for the RED brand, I signed up straight away.

What a brilliant idea - sell people products they want and give a percentage of the revenues to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. In this way, maybe we can make a difference to the lives of some of those unfortunate children.

Surely if there is one thing we should all be able to agree upon, whatever our faith or race, it seems to me we have an obligation to protect the age of innocence for the world's children, today, and for all our tomorrows.