I like to call Giorgio Armani “The Godfather of Fashion.” Not because he fits into some embarrassing Italian American mafia stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood. I call him the “Godfather” because he sets off the career trajectory of young designers just by letting them use his show space.
The best part of fashion week, in my opinion, is his Armani “Next Generation” show that happens every season. He is never actually seen or really even photographed with the designers, but it is a way for Armani to shape Italy’s fashion industry that has been long criticized for a lack of young blood.
What happens is this: The recipient (at least the ones I have spoken to), get a phone call from Armani’s people. They then let out a big, silent “Oh $%^* !!!” — call their parents and their friends and then they say “Oh $%^*!” again — and scramble to amp up his or her collection (already almost finished) because in about a months time everyone from Franca Sozzani to Suzy Menkes will be watching and scrutinizing.
Two seasons ago, I interviewed the Au Jour Le Jour duo Mirko Fontana and Diego Marquez before the show. If you haven’t heard of them, they design funky, pop, ironic message printed ready to wear for both men and women.
Fontana, who is from the eastern Italian city of Ascoli Piceno, told me that his whole family, and many of their friends, were so excited and were coming by bus to see him unfurl his first collection before the eyes of an international public. I later would meet Marquez’ mom at their show at Pitti last June. She gushed about her son’s artistic ability and how he was “always a good boy growing up.” To see the pride in her face really brought tears to my eyes.
And that is what the Armani show is all about: The emotion of a star being born. – even though Armani is not there with them on stage, and even though he doesn’t ever help them craft their collection or give them any advice – he really just waves his magic wand and the rest is history.
It really makes a whole world of difference for these younger guys, who are really breaking their backs to keep up with vanguard brands, market themselves and get the cash together to purchase the luxe materials for their collections.
The latest Armani pick is Malaysian-born, Belgian-based Edmund Ooi. I met him at Pitti Uomo last June and was really impressed with his sci-fi, disco collection. It takes a really bold person to pull Ooi’s clothes off, but it’s like nothing I have ever seen before. I am really excited for Edmund.