It was Armani and Versace that straddled Milan during the eighties. Now the Versace billboards have all but disappeared, leaving the Armani image omnipotent.
Control and precision are the two words we've heard bandied about most during this Milan fashion week. They're synonymous with Giorgio Armani's approach to fashion design, simplifying, refining and stripping back. Armani influenced a generation with that edict, although he's the only one still going strong.
Strength. Armani certainly has that. The strength of Giorgio Armani S.p.A. is economically equivalent to a not-so-small country. It was Armani and Versace that straddled Milan during the eighties. Now the Versace billboards have all but disappeared, leaving the Armani image omnipotent. Like Big Brother's menacing visage, the Armani eagle looms down in ominous monochrome from gargantuan holdings across the city. Its an icon of our times - only what it stands for these days is somewhat hazy.
And so to the Armani Compound on Via Bergognone, a chapel to Minimalism and the severity of Armani's uncompromising, unchallenged vision. We come to worship - but worship what? The clothes on the catwalk? Hardly. 'Easy Chic', Armani called it this time. But it didn't look especially easy, and a lot of it wasn't particularly chic with searing cerise and satsuma, overblown hothouse colours that scalded your eyes amidst a sea of greige. The trousersuits were elegant, not faultlessly so, but they made you sit up and take notice. They are the things you remember. The rest passed through your field of vision, barely registering on the retina, a pallid parade punctuated by hollow, false applause.
Why were we here? Money. The Armani advertising budget dwarfs that of any competitor, the company's sell-through exceptional. It's outside of fashion. These clothes are prosaically, profoundly safe, but depressingly they seem to be what people want to buy. When Signor Armani appears at the end to take his bow, thats' what the applause is really for - not his creative prowess, at least not any more, but the manner in which Armani has harnessed that to build an empire with the wealth and power equivalent to an entire nation. These clothes didn't seem overwhelmingly worthy of applause. But that business certainly is.