Only Giorgio Armani can turn Tokyo upside down with a store opening like the one he held last night on the city's famous Ginza shopping street where he opened a 65,000 square-foot (1025 square meter), 12-story building housing not only his Black Label collection, but also Emporio Armani, Armani Casa, a new Armani Spa, and an Armani Ristorante. A pregnant Cate Blanchett flew in from Sydney for the day, thousands of Tokyo fashionistas lined up outside the boutique to gander at the award-winning actress and the Italian designer as they pushed the button at the lighting ceremony this evening. Afterwards, Armani held a VIP dinner to inaugurate the restaurant. TIME's Kate Betts caught up with the designer in his suite at the nearby Peninsula Hotel about Japanese style, retirement, and winning market share in the most competitive luxury market.
You've had a presence in Tokyo now for 20 years, what has changed here for you?
Japanese women have learned to dress in a way that is more mixed, more personalized, and less devoted to one designer.
What about the Japanese aesthetic inspires you?
I've always been inspired by the Asian aesthetic. On it's own, Japanese minimalism can be too severe, but there is a certain spirit, a rigor and a love of sophistication here that has always inspired me. I love the colors and the shapes you see in Japan too.
What was the inspiration for the architecture of this building?
We had to cover the façade so we came up with the idea of covering it with something that was symbolic of Japan, which was my idea. She [Doriana Fuksas, the architect] wanted to cover it with tiny illuminated holes, but I thought we had to find something more typical of Japan so I came up with the bamboo leaves, which are more decorative and appear as a motif throughout the building. The idea of gold is symbolic of luxury, but not in a brash, baroque way. It is more subtle, more Japanese.
You reportedly invested $20 million in this building, why invest so much in the Japanese market when it is not performing so well?
I think when the market is not good is the time when you have to do something, you have to push it and restart in a different way. The young Japanese consumer has a big appetite for fashion. They are more open and free to shop; it is not such an inhibiting activity here anymore. Even if they cannot afford to buy a designer dress, they will buy, for example, a smaller item, a small accessory. And I felt that I had to be on Ginza, it is the big shopping street here.
At 73 you have more energy than many designers half your age. How do you keep going at such a brisk pace?
Well, I don't go out at night much! I live a very focused life, separate from everyone else in this business. I'm home every night by 9 p.m. I don't want to get tired because I'm not a baby anymore. Now I do everything to stay in good physical shapeĐI go to the gym and I watch what I eat. If I'm not in the best shape, I'm afraid I will not be able to keep all of this going. For me it's absolutely imperative to take care of myself. I've made that a priority since I was 50.
Do you think about retiring?
I am not retiring soon. What would I do? On Saturdays and Sundays I take my dogs to the park and then, after about an hour and a half I don't know what to do with myself. I have to have something to do. It's my drug.
Well, do you think about the future, about who will take over your company for you some day?
I am not the type to hire someone from the outside to come in and take over. I have assembled over the years a very strong team for each brand and they are more than able to take care of these brands in the future. They know what each one of my brands represents. No matter how much fashion changes, they will know how to interpret it with the Armani spirit.