Just thinking back to the early 1980s stirs up so much. It was the time where everything was moving in my career. I did the wardrobe for “American Gigolo”. The film was a sensation, so it gave me a sudden positive notoriety. Not long afterwards I launched two new fashion labels, Emporio Armani and Armani Jeans, but my chief focus remained the prêt-à-porter, and I wanted to keep innovating.
In the collection presented in Milan for the 1981 Autumn/Winter season, I pushed the boundaries in my Giorgio Armani ready-to-wear line. A visit to Japan and Akira Kurosawa’s film “Kagemusha” inspired me to build a collection incorporating many of the same emblematic Japanese silhouettes, accessories and patterns. We staged the show in a re-creation of an ancient Japanese tea-house. The lights were low and traditional music was playing. It was serene.
For the collection, which was called Samurai, I mixed ideas of armour, corsetry and traditional prints into a series of outfits designed to be worn by strong, powerful young women. There were structured ponchos, strong jackets, many different styles of pants. It was also the first show in which I showed any dresses or skirts: up until then I had been very guided by my feeling for tailoring. The aesthetic of those pieces was so unique, it distanced Samurai from my previous collections. It had a striking eccentricity that I’m still proud of.
Was the show successful? Well, to be truthful it was not a financial success! But the critics liked it. And so did someone else who saw the show that day. Grace Jones was already famous for her sculptural beauty and powerful voice. What she saw in Samurai made an impression on her. Afterwards my office in Milan was asked if we would let her have access to the garments from the show. They were perfect for Grace – strong and incisive – so much so that she wore one of the jackets for the cover of her album “Nightclubbing”, which is one of the most enduring and powerful images of her. I am still proud that she is wearing my design in that picture*.
In those days, there was no formalised relationship between the fashion and music businesses – no stylists, no agencies. Now it is a big industry. But ever since that first spontaneous partnership with Grace I have enjoyed developing genuine collaborations with many different singers and musicians, from Tina Turner to Liam Payne, who came to our menswear show this June and looked good in all blue, all Armani!
For these collaborations to work, they need to be based on a bond of trust. The designer who creates the garment and the performer who wears it need to share an aesthetic affinity and understanding, because it is only by working together that we create a style. That’s not a feeling you can find in a contract – it needs to be based on real personal relationships developed with care and over time. That sometimes gets forgotten today. In fact it gets forgotten all the time. But I have never forgotten that first great alignment with Grace at a time when everything felt possible, and we showed that it was.
*The “Nightclubbing” cover is a painted photograph, entitled “Blue-Black in Black on Brown”, by Jean-Paul Goude