Armani is one of the only large, established fashion houses still controlled and designed by its founder and now that Giorgio is getting up there (he's almost 78)...well, that obviously won't be the case forever.
He's clearly still going strong--pushing out collection after collection, expanding into new product categories, designing clothes for the Olympics, etc--and never really talks about who will succeed him. Still, he tells the Wall Street Journal, in a lengthy piece about that and the future of the Armani brand, that it's something he thinks about every day--"when I wake up in the morning and when I go to sleep at night."
He also touches on his battle with hepatitis, his initial reluctance to strike a deal with LVMH (which he seems to now regret not doing), why editors shouldn't praise designers like Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada, what (and who) will take Armani into the future (there is no mention of Stefano Pilati, who has been rumored), and the possibility of starting a foundation. Read on for the most interesting bits:
On his 2009 battle with hepatitis, and how he contracted it:
It was the supplements. Then 75 years old, he was drinking them every morning in a small glass as he hit the gym. "My doctor told me: Get rid of all this shit you're drinking," Armani recalls.
Armani won't say exactly what he was taking, only that the substance poisoned his liver.
On not selling to LVMH:
In 1998, according to both sides, Arnault and Armani began to discuss a possible partnership in which the designer would have remained creative director and LVMH would have taken a 20 percent stake in the business. But nothing ever took shape. "I would have been managed," says Armani. "And so I thought to myself, If they want, they can go over my head."
On who he sees running his business:
Armani sees his business eventually in the hands of this group he calls I Fedeli, or the faithful. It includes his two nieces and his nephew—Silvana and Roberta Armani, the daughters of his late older brother Sergio, and Andrea Camerana, the son of his younger sister Rosanna—as well as Pantaleo Dell'Orco, known as Leo, a former model who has been a collaborator and friend of Armani's for 20 years. The 57-year-old Silvana, reserved and understatedly elegant in her slacks, button-down shirt and ponytail, started out as a model and swimwear designer for her uncle in the 1970s, and today oversees the women's collections. Armani sometimes pulls her with him onto the runway...Dell'Orco, 59, is her counterpart for menswear.
There won't be a single new genius, or new Armani. Rather, there will be lots of little Armanis," says Silvana. "We can't talk about succession with him. It's like saying, In a while you'll no longer be here. It's terrible. Talking about it would be terrible."
On competing with more artistic designers for editors' attention:
Armani is also in a perennial tug of war with the fashion establishment, which tends to exalt the more tormented or intellectual work of designers like the late Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton's Marc Jacobs and—much to his irritation—Miuccia Prada. They criticize him for not unveiling anything new. Armani is proud that 99 percent of his runway wares can be found in stores, and says editors should pay more attention to what consumers want than to what looks good on a magazine cover.
"This is a serious business," he adds. "This isn't a game. This is not just about fashion victims." Yet he chafes at not being a critical darling. "Why do I still care?" he continues. "Why do I put myself in a position to be cast aside or not considered as I would like to? Because I am a creative mind, because I still aspire to be one."
On what will happen when he's gone and how he'll protect his company despite not having made a deal with LVMH:
He says he thinks about succession every day, "when I wake up in the morning and when I go to sleep at night." There is a hint of remorse that he didn't work out a deal with LVMH. "Today the two companies together would be really something," he says. One option he's exploring is a foundation—similar to the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation behind Rolex—that would protect his heirs' financial holdings and provide strategic guidance. As he sees it, his nieces and nephew will need some support. "It's difficult to judge their capacity," he says. "I'd say they're about 70 percent there."
But then he stops short: "Look, this succession issue has been at my throat for at least 15 years. The question is always the same, and so is the answer: As long as I'm here, I'm the boss."