Once upon a time, a handful of young, unknown designers cemented Milan as synonymous with global fashion through their work on wildly successful ready to wear clothing. Whereas Paris meant couture, Milanese labels dressed models in simplistic, daily life-appropriate looks, with a focus on quality fabrics.
In the 1970s and 80s, the neutral palette of Giorgio Armani was not as theatrical as the products from couturiers like Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, but to a wider audience, arguably more exciting, thanks to its utility and comparatively lower price point.
Mr. Armani was among others from Milan, like Gianni Versace, Miuccia Prada, and the duo at Dolce & Gabbana, who built their labels upon versatility and iconic staples. They appealed not only to wealthy bankers and attorneys across the globe, but to celebrities, musicians, and thousands of new designers that would flourish in the decades thereafter.
Now in his 80s, Mr. Armani joins another small but influential group that has turned their concentration to cultural pursuits. In 2014, LVMH and its global head Bernard Arnault opened the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which is a vast art museum and event space on the outskirts of Paris.
Earlier this year, the Fondazione Prada opened in Milan, also showcasing fine art, purposefully lacking any commonality with Prada’s commercial operations (perhaps only in name).
Armani/Silos is unique in that it focuses on Mr. Armani’s work in the fashion realm, as a sort of living exhibit-archive of brand history. The repurposed industrial building is made of glass, cement, and gray stucco with open atriums and staircases connecting its 4 floors.
The staff uniform consists of black, black, and more black!
For the uninitiated, it is quite a collection to behold at point-blank distance. The majority of Mr. Armani’s designs, which he is most known for, were soft, wearable fabrics cut in comfortable drapes, in variations of his favorite color: greige. There are also rooms dedicated to black, white, and brown motifs.
On the upper floors, one finds the more exotic and ethereal designs worn on the red carpet and in instances of Armani/Privé, a made-to-measure service of the brand. The couture-esque designs from the late 1980s and early 1990s were the most interesting to me, as they relied less on meticulous beading and more on curious fabric pairings, unconventional silhouettes, and bold color statements.
Even I, with all my appreciation and obsession with fashion and clothing, can be reminded of the overwhelming creativity that came from the mind of a prolific designer like Giorgio Armani. Today, so many of them are digested and boiled down to a brand name syrup, which is applied liberally to almost anything the public is willing to buy, with little link back to a creative logic.
Much of this is their own doing, so they are not innocent in this respect.
Nonetheless, spending time around comprehensive archives like the Armani/Silos certainly reinvigorates one’s love and excitement about dressing. It also gently reminds us that style is timeless.
Although he has chosen to be introspective for his ‘museum,’ the result is equally impressive. Great works are great works, period. I haven’t been to Fondazione Prada yet, but I plan to go soon, to compare and enjoy a different type of genius.
If you visit Armani/Silos, go in the evening just before closing (at 8pm on weekdays). The place will be deserted and you’ll have plenty of space to be inspired.