With a proud drumroll and a fancy Paris celebration, Giorgio Armani unveiled a new womenswear line on Monday that he’s dubbed the New Normal.
In black-and-white portraits by photographer Peter Lindbergh, models are dressed in an array of wearable, sophisticated sportswear that might remind shoppers of the kind of luxurious restraint typified by The Row or Cline or even COS – which is to say that the New Normal will remind them of classic Armani.
The advertising for the fall collection includes Eva Herzigova, Stella Tennant, Yasmin Le Bon and Nadja Auermann – not the most diverse group of supermodels, but all past the age of 40 (Le Bon is now 51). In that way, they reflect the demographic of the women most likely able to afford these clothes, which range from $850 for a pair of trousers to $7,000 for outerwear. It is also the demographic that fashion notoriously ignores.
To make a pair of trousers worth that kind of cash, there surely must be magic in them. While Armani is not promising any kind of voodoo, he is offering what he describes as “timeless garments that maintain the values of elegance and dignity.”
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It seems like that would be an obvious goal for fashion at any time, but in the frock trade, nothing is ever quite that simple. Change fuels fashion; it doesn’t need to be broken for someone to want to try to fix it.
Even Armani had strayed from the source of his success.
Some 40 years ago, the designer established his reputation in menswear, and throughout the 1980s and ’90s his notoriety and acclaim grew as he turned his attention to womenswear and the red carpet. His place in fashion history books is assured thanks to “American Gigolo” and his injection of ease and sensuality into the modern business suit – both for men and women.
He helped women look powerful and capable thanks to his jackets with their soft shoulders, easy silhouettes and fabrics that gently draped. His color palette wasn’t overwhelmed with obvious jewel tones or precious pastels, but it wasn’t stark black or navy either. It was filled with subtle shades of gray and a thousand variations of beige. His clothes looked sophisticated.
But as much as fashion yearns for change, so do designers. In the 2000s, the industry as a whole became obsessed with ingenues, starlets, hipster artists and cultural curiosities. An awful lot of accomplished women were left in the lurch. What were they to wear?
Calvin Klein had gone eclectic. Donna Karan was simply gone. Even Armani had distanced himself from his heritage. He gave women jackets, sure. But his heart was in arty flourishes. He turned his attention to haute couture with Armani Priv.
The shift was particularly galling to those consumers who have the financial means that should make it worth the fashion industry’s efforts to cater to them. And sometimes, they just don’t want to wear a sheath – a frock that Seventh Avenue insisted was a woman’s new power uniform.
Consumers drifted about indulging in Akris, Chanel, Jil Sander. They dabbled in Prada. They embraced The Row. But there was frustration. It was one of the reasons why former InStyle fashion director Cindy Weber Cleary co-founded Apprcier, a style-advice-shopping website directed at grown-up women – not “girls” – who love fashion.
So now, Armani – the originator of clean-lined sophistication – has returned to his roots.
“I wanted to create essential and concise pieces that summarize 40 years of style that have defied the test of time,” Armani said in an email, “because I found that ultimately, there weren’t any ‘normal’ clothes – and by normal I mean not ... obvious.”
At a time when other design houses are producing clothes that read like period costumes – ’70s sweaty sex appeal, ’80s ostentation, ’90s grunge – Armani’s new collection looks contemporary but without any 21st-century cliches. They aren’t technical or digitally connected. They are not meant to be dressed up activewear. They are simply good looking clothes – which is often the most challenging thing for the fashion industry to produce.