Giorgio Armani is clearly looking East. After a Resort collection that drew on Imperial China, the Fall haute couture collection he showed today was an homage to Japan. While it's true that China represents an unprecedented business opportunity—meaning it's smart to market to it—Armani's connection to Japan is a deeper and more emotional one. He has been financially supporting a UNESCO scholarship program to help child victims of March's disaster. With today's Privé show, he wanted to show his support in a more personal way, and also perhaps acknowledge a creative debt that stretches back decades, or at least to his famous samurai-influenced collection.
The result was a striking symbiosis of man and country. Japanese visual icons—ranging from parasols to cherry blossoms—were predictably transmuted in prints, and, equally predictably, there were obilike belts and origamilike folds. But it felt like Armani had reflected on new Japan as much as old traditions, because there was a hint of Rei Kawakubo's original radicalism in the man-tailored pants, in the layered, elongated Edwardian line, in odd details like the double cuff on a jacket sleeve, and especially in all the asymmetry. Witness a one-armed jacket, the single floral-printed pannier that hung off a black bolero, or the diagonal slash that bisected a velvet dress to reveal a printed interior. And, seeing we're on the subject of the new, the collection's major futuristic flourish—the stiffened bodices that stood up like shields over the torso—could potentially also be laid at Japan's door. Was it protection they offered?
The drama of the clothes—and their inspiration—literally came to a head with the origami architecture of Philip Treacy's "hats." They highlighted the structured nature of Armani's couture, which was as deliberate here as a black patent-leather bodice and a world apart from the fluidity of his ready-to-wear. Remarkable, really, that a man at this stage in his career should be pushing forward into country that is uncharted for him. But the path was illuminated by pieces like the glowing evening sheath, crusted with thousands of tangerine bugle beads, that helped close the show.