Just as the narcotic gateway theory suggests that a few blasts on a “goof butt” will soon have you “dropping” H and forcibly relieving your grandmother of her pension, evil scheming Giorgio morally corrupts unsuspecting youth by means of his cutting edge Emporio Armani line.
It all starts innocently enough of course – perhaps with a simple pair of branded boxer briefs – only for you to one day wake with the realization that you now own an entire closet full of slinky two-thousand-dollar double breasted suits!
But just where does the Emporio line fit in with the greater Armani family of brands? And are the clothes actually any good? John Bramaan investigates.
When it comes to style, Emporio essentially plays younger brother to the more gray-templed Giorgio label. Although Emporio’s overall silhouettes can often feel quite similar to the Armani main line, at a greater degree of magnification, Emporio designs reveal themselves to be more youthful and trend-focused than the largely staid and respectable fare offered by both Giorgio and Armani Collezioni.
Despite its edgier direction, Emporio retains a considerable degree of sophistication by severely restricting the range of colors employed. So much so that it comes as a genuine shock when the monotony is broken by an occasional fiery chromatic flourish.
However, in terms of texture, print, and weave, Emporio Armani is often decidedly maximal: featuring eccentric geometric designs alongside more wearable everyday items.
As current menswear trends revert to the relaxed silhouettes and rumpled tailoring of Armani’s ’80s heyday, recent Emporio collections have displayed plenty of supple drapery; slouchy pants and unstructured blazers invite insolent hands into roomy pockets.
Yet despite a preponderance of suiting, Armani is by no means immune to contemporary fashion’s sporty turn either. And with the Emporio line Armani frequently sends tech-style textiles down the runway next to classic tuxedos, allowing tropes from the slopes to contaminate his feted formalwear.
Commendably, Armani ditched the use of animal pelts a few seasons back. Yet this only seems to have triggered a fur fetish of the more synthetic kind, with hairy-bear-looks, mock-croc, and pseudo-snake all central to recent collections.
Finally, while clothes sold under the Giorgio Armani label frequently exhibit a polite and good-natured kind of naturalism, Emporio’s penchant for mountaineering and militaristic motifs – tied with the unwavering commitment to steely hues – distinguish the line with a degree of bellicose menace. An impression reinforced in some recent looks by the use of eagle insignias worthy of a terrifying paramilitary organization.
When first launched, Emporio Armani was conceived as a cheaper and more youthful gateway brand, hooking a new generation of buyers on the Armani name, hoping they would eventually graduate to the pricier Giorgio line. Yet while Emporio’s more fashion-forward cuts remain squarely targeted at this 20-to-30-something demographic, the pricing and quality of the EA line have fluctuated over the years.
At times Emporio’s production has taken place entirely in Italy; at others, manufacturing was moved to countries such as Turkey or even China. These changes have been reflected in quality of output. Consequently if you’d solely experienced the brand in a single era, you may have been left with quite a different impression to anyone who purchased their products even just a couple of years before, or indeed after.
For example, those who insist that Emporio Armani is inferior in quality to Armani Collezioni or Giorgio Armani are likely basing their opinion on Emporio’s noughties output – when quality appears to have hit an all time low. Yet anyone familiar with Emporio over the last ten years or so – a period in which most production had returned to Italy – will maintain that the clothes are vastly superior to those of Collezioni, and instead comparable to the main Giorgio line.
To make matters more confusing, about two years ago Armani reshuffled everything again, absorbing both Collezioni and Armani Jeans into Emporio, along with sport offshoot EA7. More recently still, the Armani menswear factory near Turin made redundant two thirds of its workforce, with production shifting instead to Bulgaria.
While nothing produced under the Emporio moniker could be considered of truly poor quality, not all of it upholds the same standards as the Giorgio Armani line. Problem is, estimating the quality of an Emporio product at a distance can prove a difficult task. Was the garment made in Italy by Zegna or Vestimenta? In Armani’s own Italian factories? In Bulgaria? Or even further afield?
Aside from actual quality though, there’s also the issue of perceived quality. And in this respect Armani’s image as a whole has likely suffered somewhat in recent years. Certainly the shrugging mediocrity of rockbottom diffusion line A/X Armani Exchange has done little to help maintain overall brand image.
While those in the know would never mistake A/X for Emporio, after repeated exposure to A/X’s wretched sub-Gap offerings, many rather more casual devotees of fashion will likely have long ago written off the Armani name as a lost cause. Given that in the meantime the higher-end lines such as Emporio have maintained their style credentials, this is clearly a shame.
The Future of Emporio Armani
Exchange was principally a licensing deal though. And perhaps one that Giorgio himself now regrets: the recent restructuring of the Armani empire saw A/X’s Singaporean cofounder bought out entirely, bringing the A/X diffusion line under full control of Milan HQ for the first time since its inception.
All the signs are, then, that Giorgio has come to realize that over-expansion is not a sound longterm tactic, and is now seeking to set operations back on course. This is to be celebrated: from his reinvention of men’s tailoring in the 1980s to today’s more combative sportswear influenced lines, there’s never been a moment in which Armani has lacked either creativity or style.
The Emporio label continues to put out inspiring cutting-edge looks that don’t deserve denigration for their association with the likes of A/X. Let’s hope ol’ Giorgi boy gets his house fully in order so that once again the Armani name becomes synonymous with the sumptuous and experimental styles it’s still more than capable of delivering.