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My name is Evan Carmichael and I believe that the fastest and most effective way to build a business is to model the strategies of people who have already done what you’re trying to do. I call it Modeling the Masters. My last post with almost 8,000 views was 3 Success Lessons from the Twitter Founders.
Today we’re going to take a closer look at how a young man from a war-torn country grew from poverty to becoming one of the top fashion designers in the world. This is the story of preeminent fashion designer Giorgio Armani and the top 3 lessons that you can learn from his success.
“Remain true to yourself and your philosophy. Changing in the face of adversity will in fact diminish your credibility with your customers.” – Giorgio Armani
Giorgio Armani (born July 11, 1934) grew up in the small northern Italian town of Piacenza. Armani grew up in a family of five that was hard working, but never had too much money to go around. His childhood was not an easy one. The realities of the Second World War in which Italy was caught at the time, were all too apparent to the young Armani. After losing two young friends to a war bomb, Armani and his sister also became the target of machine gun fire from an overhead plane. However, Armani and his family survived the War and relocated to Milan. It was a city decidedly marked by class division, and one in which Armani’s parents struggled to rebuild their lives. They found it hard to find their footing in this much bigger and tougher city than their little town of Piacenza.
And so, he enrolled in the medical school at the University of Bologna, where he studied for two years to become a doctor. However, when he discovered that the sight of blood made him weak, Armani knew that line of work was not for him. In 1953, Armani was called to fulfill his military obligations, which he accepted eagerly as a chance to clear his head and gain new direction in his life. For all of his experience, Armani was assigned to the infirmary. However, he quickly grew bored with his prospects and realized that war life was not the romantic notion he had seen in the movies.
He took a short break from the service and took a trip to Milan that would forever change his life. That was where he met a friend of his who happened to work at La Rinascente, Milan’s largest department store, and who would give him his first break into the fashion industry. After the meeting, Armani said he had become a believer in destiny. That destiny has made him known for his classically tailored, sleek power suits and clean, high quality fabrics that everyone from the who’s who of Hollywood to the bankers on Wall Street have fallen in love with. Now, Giorgio Armani S.p.A. has over $1.5 billion in revenue and a retail empire that extends to more than 35 countries.
Action Item #1: Stick to Your Vision
As an entrepreneur it’s important to have a vision that guides your business decisions. What bigger game are you playing? What kind of mark do you want to leave on your industry? What do you stand for as a person? Answering these questions and keeping your vision top of mind will help make the difficult decisions easier while you are in the day to day of running your business.
For over 30 years, Armani has made a name for himself as a designer whose clothing was elegant yet subtle. From day one, he has stood out from his competitors, including the likes of Gianni Versace, who chose instead to emphasize the sexuality of clothes over their subtlety, and has increased the risqué nature of his designs each year. Armani’s approach to fashion was a pragmatic one. His vision was to create clothing that was both classic, that would stand the test of time, and that was meticulously designed. That was a vision he stayed true to throughout his entire career. Unlike many of his competitors, Armani believes that fashion should evolve over time rather than change drastically each and every year.
According to Armani: “Remain true to yourself and your philosophy… I design for real people. I think of our customers all the time. There is no virtue whatsoever in creating clothing or accessories that are not practical… You have to think of the future. If not, we would close down… I find it gratifying that I have launched a lasting style, but of course, I feel the need to reach forward to question myself, to take risks. I always want to refresh and renew.”
Action Item #2: Stretch Your Brand
The easiest way to grow a business is to sell more products and services to existing clients. Provided that it fits your long term vision and it adds more value to your customers, look for ways to expand your business by adding new offerings. If your clients are happy with what they’ve already bought from you, they’ll line up to keep working with you. You’re not just growing your business, you’re finding new ways to help customers solve their problems.
There were never any doubts when it came to Armani’s talents as a designer. However, when his partner in both life and business passed away, Armani was left to defend his talents as a businessman. He had little to no business experience but didn’t want to give up on his and Galeotti’s dream of expanding his company. To this end, Armani decided to create new product lines, including many less exclusive and less expensive spin-offs of his luxury label. He introduced Armani Jeans for casual clothes and Armani Exchange, which consists of trending urban clothing. While he is primarily still known the world over for his fashion designs, Armani has moved on from clothing to launch product lines that include accessories, home furnishings, restaurants, car interiors, chocolates, and, most recently, hotels.
According to Armani: “When I began making jeans, the press was skeptical that someone who made luxury ready-to-wear could start something so commercial, but I considered it a medium to speak with a less affluent clientele… I have always paid great attention to having brands that don’t overlap… I choose a brand for a particular market and balance my collections in terms of look, price, distribution and location… When the supply of fashion items becomes so enormous, the consumer tends to choose the leading brand, which means that others are left behind, and to establish real credibility is no simple matter.”
Action Item #3: Follow Your Conscience
As you grow your business your values will be tested numerous times. Do you say yes to a deal that might make you a lot of money but isn’t in line with what you believe in? When things aren’t black and white how far are you willing to walk down the grey line? Let your conscience be your guide. New opportunities will continue coming to you. You don’t need to compromise who you are to be a successful entrepreneur.
Armani believes that at the heart of all successful businesses are successful relationships. Thus, establishing positive interactions between his company and its communities and consumers is a significant step towards generating healthy business growth. To this end, Armani has committed his company to what he believes are positive social ideals. Armani is at the forefront of companies demonstrating their potential to be a force for change. He is refusing to operate in a bubble, designing luxury clothes for consumers irrespective of the world in which they all live. Much like he stood up in the face of critics who thought he would never make it as a businessman, so too is Armani now standing up for the social issues he believes in, and proving that any company can do the same.
According to Armani: “It is a fact that, in the West, we live in a capitalist society, but that does not mean that we cannot be guided by the idea of a social conscience in our work… Yes, fashion design requires consumers to consume, but we can do our bit for society by running our companies in a socially responsible way, and by creating products that promote respect for social and environmental issues… The best way to make a contribution in fashion is to promote the idea that a fundamental interest in preserving the environment is itself fashionable.”
Armani has designed clothing for some of the most influential people on the planet, but, according to Armani himself, some of his proudest designs were for Princess Charlene of Monaco. He has been clothing her since she first wore one of his pieces in 2008 at the Olympic Games in Beijing. He spoke to Vogue magazine about designing her wedding gown and believes Princess Charlene “knows how to wear my creations with nonchalance and confidence of youth.”
Getting to the point where royalty requests a specific designers clothing is considered the pinnacle of a designer’s career, but Armani continues to challenge the market and re-invent his designs, which was shown in his design for Princess Charlene’s wedding dress. According to Armani, “I felt the new design was appropriate given that there would inevitably be comparisons with Princess Grace, and though such comparisons are of course a sign of admiration, each person has their own individual and unique style, and style is an expression of the times.” He goes on to say it was one of greatest creations.
“In this business you can’t have a destination, an arrival point. Otherwise your competitors will overtake you, or you become complacent.”
“The long and short of it for me is that the entrepreneur is the one who at the end decides yes or no and I like that even though it’s a lot of responsibility.”
“I supposed it would have been great to invent something as classic and enduring as the tuxedo. But if I was collecting royalties, I wish I’d invented the corkscrew.”
What Do You Think?
Do you keep your vision sharpened? Do you continually stretch your brand and expand your reach? Are you following your conscience? Tell me what you think by leaving a message below.