The Armani Exchange menswear design director talks to Ana Santi about the spring 11 collection and gives some clues as to what’s in store for autumn 11.
Armani Exchange is a retail business that now has six stores in the UK. How important is the UK to you?
The UK is one of our biggest markets, and within the top five globally. The UK consumer is very music-orientated, with quite a street style and London, in particular, is very directional, so the chain does well here. We’re definitely looking to expand, but we also don’t want too many stores in one place. Brighton could be an interesting location.
You have just designed the spring 11 menswear collection. What can we expect to see in stores next year?
It’s a workwear-inspired collection, with dark navy and indigo the key colours. But there’s also a glamorous, sophisticated twist, with a really beautiful nylon and knit suit and a hoodie with a stiff collar.
What did Mr Armani himself think of it?
I showed it to Giorgio Armani and he really liked it. He is very hands-on and he approves every sketch, every sample and every button.
Can you give Drapers a sneak preview of autumn 11?
We work by seasons but also by month. For autumn 11 we will have a more vintage feel. For our early drop in August, the look will be smart sportswear, getting darker for September with a folk-inspired look for October.
What are the key factors driving the premium menswear market at the moment?
Small Scandinavian brands like S N S Herning and Our Legacy are having an important influence on the menswear market. They have a back-to-basics aesthetic but are modernising the idea of authenticity. The menswear market is a lot slower than womenswear, but it means we can explore ideas and go deeper into the details, like linings and buttons. In womenswear, silhouettes change much faster.
What impact did the global recession have on Armani Exchange?
It impacted us pretty early on, sales dropped and budgets were cut. But it has picked up again. Before the recession we would do crazy cashmere pieces, but we are playing it safer now. We have also gone back to sourcing more from Italy because cotton prices in the Far East have gone up so much.
You almost became a doctor instead of a fashion designer, didn’t you?
I was on a five-and-a-half-year medical course but I didn’t finish it. It became obvious that I wanted to do something more creative. So, I went to [design college] Parsons in New York to study fashion. After that I worked for Marc Jacobs as an intern, then moved to DKNY before joining Armani Exchange in 2005 as a senior designer. Three years later I was promoted to design director for menswear.
What are you ambitions for the business?
I want it to grow and make it more global. I’m very interested in developing the Japanese market as we’re doing well there.
Where do you like to shop?
I love vintage pieces, so I love fairs and markets. I also like [premium indie] Odin in New York’s West Village and [US luxury department store] Barneys New York (pictured).
Which designers do you admire?
Giorgio Armani for the way he was able to build an amazing company and Martin Margiela (below) - the way he designs is so inspiring. [American fashion designer] Thom Browne has had an amazing impact on the menswear industry - he’s so theatrical.
If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be doing?
Probably working in film, either writing or directing.
What is your favourite city?
London and Tokyo (pictured) for menswear.
Lucio Castro is the Armani Exchange design director for menswear