Armani’s red carpet is a threadbare affair
Last year when the celebrated designer visited Seoul for the first time in 15 years, his trip was a mere one-day add-on to his five day itinerary in Japan. By the time he showed up to meet with the Korean press, the 70-year-old designer, surrounded by an entourage of staff and body guards, was more than one hour late, and his brief apology prompted many journalists to denounce his arrogance.
The “Solomon R. Guggenheim Giorgio Armani” exhibit, which kicked off in New York City in 2000, might have taken five years to arrive in Asia via Bilbao, Berlin, London and Rome, but it pleased the Japanese who got to see the full collection at the prestigious Mori Museum in 2005.
It took Shinsegae International, the company which distributes all Armani brands in Korea, more than a year to convince the designer’s representatives that Seoul should be on the Armani map. Currently Shisegae operates a total of 37 stores, up from 32 in 2005, including one Giorgio Armani, six Emporio Armani, 26 Armani Collezioni, two Armani Jeans plus three duty-free stores nationwide which carry Armani products.
When the Korean company announced the Armani exhibition would open in Seoul this month, running until Saturday, local Armani fans expected the full-scale Guggenheim retrospective of his 30 years in the design business, including some 400 garments, sketches and drawings and more. However, the exhibit sent to Seoul, entitled “Giorgio Armani ― Red Carpet” which was unveiled last Monday on the third floor of the Armani flagship store in Cheongdam-dong, was shockingly miniscule in size, consisting of no more than 17 outfits. In a desperate attempt to shore up the credibility of the exhibit, and sensing the surprised response of many journalists, apologetic staff explained that one of the four visual designers working on the exhibit’s world tour did come to Seoul to set it up. To which some at the opening said, “Big deal.”
This bedraggled, downsized exhibit was originally supposed to include 18 outfits but, according to the organizer, one dress worn by Halle Berry arrived damaged and had to be sent back to Italy; the rest, each individually wrapped, arrived with hollow mannequins specially designed to support each dress as if it was being worn by the star for whom it was designed.
Having viewed the clothes selected for the Seoul edition, it is possible that Korean consumers brought this treatment upon themselves. After all one might have expected the venerated designer to show more respect for his Korean fans , who have been loyal customers for years.
The theme of the show, which is made to look like a red carpet procession of invisible men and women, is more like a pop quiz that could be called “Entertainment Tonight 101,” than the legacy of Giorgio Armani. The most interesting question seems to be “Which Hollywood celebrity wore this or that Armani outfit?” rather than “How do these clothes reveal Armani’s evolution as a designer?”
In an entire nation gone crazy over celebrities, maybe Armani’s people felt the full exhibition would not be appealing. Given South Korea obsession with celebrities the exhibition’s organizers seem to have thought that even the most famous name in fashion was is in desperate need of celebrity endorsement: “Yes, they are the actual, the only one-in-the world clothes worn by these Hollywood celebrities. We chose the stars that most Koreans can recognize,” said a Shinsegae spokesperson. “So we have two dresses worn by Julia Roberts!”
On the imaginary red carpet, even without the bodies of the stars, the glamour index was at the level many Koreans desire. There was a floor-length scarlet evening gown worn by Winona Ryder, a Tina Turner mini-dress and something understated that was Isabella Rossellini’s. So at least serious fashionistas got a close look at the exquisitely custom-tailored formal wear Giorgio Armani is best-known for.
The exhibit is, effectively, Shinsegae’s effort to reinvigorate Armani’s sales in Korea now that the his products face stiff competition from an ever increasing number of luxury brands that seem to be more popular.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that Armani is a favorite among the older clientele, who are more conservative than the younger generation who seem to have a new favorite designer every week. Shinsegae seems to understand this problem. “It’s very hard for us to come up with a special event that can convey the exclusive image of Giorgio Armani in Korea,” said one of the organizers. “So we tried very, very hard to bring in this show for our VIP customers.”
In such a climate, it may be a long time before Giorgio Armani sees Korea as a suitable destination for for his top-end label, Armani Prive. When asked about the possibilities, the deflated Shinsegae organizer said, “We asked if we can show one outfit from the Prive collection in Korea, but we were turned down.”
by Ines Cho
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