Giorgio Armani’s show is about ultrastart masculinity

Giorgio Armani’s office at Armani SpA on Via Gesù has a huge portrait of a man in black tie, looking down at a woman. He looks up at a dark-suited man looming over him. The pose suggests two things. The first is the sober calm of both the authority figure and the upstart entrepreneur, but the opposite is true. It also reminds us how effortlessly Armani conveys a sense of time and place. It’s a trick of the lighting and the angles of the stage that makes the moment look flawless. In the photograph, his pose conveys the ultimate confidence, and the dangers of the gambler’s mentality — the thrill of the possible if he loses.

By the same token, the second thing about the photo is that the source is no ordinary man in black tie. That man is a real person, an Italian who gambled all his life in the stock market — a then-young lawyer who lost everything. Now, after he has sold his shares to an unknown businessman, he has lost his life savings. Now, in a bar, his sobbing voice urges him to bear up — who would pay his fees if he couldn’t afford it anymore? Who would pay to wait at another table? The sobbing man is Armani, and those opportunities have given Armani great strength. He’s become a great businessman, and there is a judgment to the choice of topic, then.

Now, on Milan Fashion Week’s penultimate day, Armani will present his Emporio line, an update of some of his most beloved designs from years past. Every look has a physicality that echoes the juxtaposition of status symbols and fun. New sportswear sneakers meet cashmere sweaters with suede loafers, an amusing juxtaposition of the luxurious with the casual. Although gender norms are more or less blurring, in these pieces the male is dominant: Neck ties, three-quarter-length coats and bolder patterns on the trousers. Perhaps because of this, Armani’s models usually appear pouty, and more aggressive than he usually is. It’s a trick of the light. The show has its lighter moments, but the way Armani uses them is in fact darker.

Like many other shows this week, Emporio won’t live stream or have a hashtag, but it is intended to be an experience and the name isn’t just a meta-joke. The show will be hard to describe and awkward to listen to, as is Armani. While some are limited to the minutiae of his designs, at Emporio Armani, he is breaking ground. The pieces are the shape of timeless fabric, but made with modern design. It’s a provocation. Why show new clothes, he will ask himself, if not as a provocation? It’s a question he’s answered more than once, and it is one that will dominate the eyes and minds of the fashion industry. The show begins in the dead of night, and it ends in the dawn. It represents a sense of adventure and wearability. At no point will you think, “Thank god for Zegna.”

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