Giorgio Armani: ‘Japan always keeps its soul’

The fashion supremo on how a simple table sparked his love for Japanese design

I loved how spare those tables looked, the restraint and grace. What I find so particularly interesting is the sense of calm that pervades all things Japanese. On top of that, I am struck by how in Japan modernity mingles seamlessly with history. The Japanese manage to convey the sense that they are able to look both backwards to tradition and forwards to the unknown future with equal ease. This is quite a cultural accomplishment.

In 1981 my interest for the Japanese aesthetic, fuelled by a steady diet of Utamaro and Kurosawa, of old and new, went full-blown in one of my most iconic collections an epic commercial fail, truth be told. Since then, my fascination with the country has grown steadily. Many of my collections have been influenced by Japan, from that 1981 collection to Hommage au Japon in 2011, which was an all-Japanese couture collection, from tables to chairs, lamps and ceramics. I cannot choose which is my favourite, though: would you choose one of your siblings over another? I feel a sense of continuity with this world. Looking at Japanese artefacts might help me create a new detail, opt for a texture or a shade. I never do that literally, however: I like nuance.

Shelf
Shelf life: a Japanese lacquer table in the Armani offices. Photograph: Gionata Xerra

When I go to Japan I always visit the Mori Art Museum which showed the travelling retrospective of my work in 2005, organised by the Guggenheim. 21:21 Design Sight is another place I really like, created by Issey Miyake, a Japanese designer I truly admire for his innovative and profoundly human touch. I like Le Corbusiers National Museum of Western Art it is the only building in east Asia by the French modernist master, impressive both inside and out.

By contrast, and I know that it is a favourite tourist attraction, I am very fond of the 7th century Sens-ji Temple in Asakusa, which is Tokyos oldest temple, I believe. Its exactly what I imagined a Japanese temple to be like before I saw one in person all ornately decorated wood and slightly curved, tiered roofs; and lots of red! As for food, I recall some restaurants in the small alleys in Shinjuku where I had some of the best Japanese food ever. These tiny streets, rammed with minute eateries that only seat a few people, are remarkable, unpretentious and authentic. Once, looking at a chef making sushi for me felt like watching an artist at work.

In 2001, for the Armani/Teatro exhibition space in Milan, one of my most ambitious projects, I collaborated with Japanese master architect Tadao Ando. I first discovered his work in a book I was given as a gift. I was won over by the purity in his architecture, his meticulous use of materials and, above all, the dialogue between water and light, which reminds us that nature is never far away. I find this extremely telling of Japanese culture.

I think Japanese design has evolved, while keeping its signature soulful minimalism. In fashion, the new generation of designers is pursuing a lively, almost chaotic aesthetic that is very far from the gloomy black of their predecessors. Japan moves fast, creatively and otherwise, but at the core always keeps its soul, and that is fascinating for me.

What brings me close to Japan is a shared love for clean and vibrant lines, which can be found in my collections. I admire the respect for tradition that in Japan comes together with modernity it mirrors the way I have honed my own stylistic codes in accordance with the times but not giving into fleeting trends. So yes, it is a natural fit. I would even go so far as to say that the Japanese are more Armani than Armani!

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