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Armani's Latest Adventure

He's branching into home furnishings with a new WeHo store.

November 14, 2001|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The elegant yet spare Armani style long ago won over the fashion mavens, but how far can that minimalist look go? Is the world ready for a whole Armani environment, from soap to walnut furniture? That will soon be possible, when Armani Casa opens Friday on the corner of Beverly and Robertson boulevards in West Hollywood.

After all, it's one thing to own a leather sofa; it's quite another to own one with the Armani imprimatur, to the tune of $20,000. And even though the looming recession and the recent dip in home furnishings sales may not make this seem the perfect time to open another high-end design store, this is still Giorgio Armani, and plans have been made.

"I began thinking about an interiors collection of my own because I couldn't find what I wanted readily available for my own homes; I am offering the items that I am interested in living with," Armani says. Because he is not comfortable speaking English, he conducts interviews by e-mail through a translator. He made clear he doesn't expect people to completely convert their homes to his look, however. "This collection, because of the clean lines and solid forms, has the ability to blend with other existing home styles. Creating a complete interior for a home can and should take time as you layer on new elements."

Armani oversaw every aspect of the design of the 6,300-square-foot store, from the light taupe color on the walls to the polished concrete floor to the make-over of the building formerly occupied by the mid-range sofa store Expressions. Armani did the renovation in collaboration with New York architects Janson Goldstein Associates. Located near the Pacific Design Center, the busy corner is a clothing and design center of its own, hosting an eclectic mix of furnishings stores that range from the high-end contemporary Diva to the French Provincial Maison et Compagnie; everything from 1950s retro to Herman Miller can be found here.

Ted Wells, an architect in Laguna Niguel, has visited the New York store and knows the Armani line well. "I think the store will be received well," he said, "because people are interested in buying things that last. Like his clothes, the interior design collection is classic without being traditional or trendy." Comparing Armani to the likes of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, who also have home furnishings lines, Wells says, "Armani has more sensitivity in the way the objects are constructed."

Armani Casa is a Zen-like space, with milky plexi sliding panels that control the light. It is also the second Armani Casa to open in the United States, following closely on the heels of the September opening of a similar store in Manhattan. The flagship is in Milan, and there are stores in Athens and Paris as well as a boutique at Harrods in London. During the next 18 months, stores are planned for Tokyo and Seoul.

"My design philosophy is based on the principles of modern elegance and luxurious comfort," Armani says. "I believe in evolving my style rather than revolutionizing a seasonal trend or a passing fad, so there is an element of timelessness." Armani Casa pursues the same subtle colors and textures familiar from the couture lines. "The strongest link between Armani Casa and my fashion collections is the need to be functional and comfortable without sacrificing luxurious materials and a strong sense of style."

The palette features neutral colors with red, amethyst and dark blue accents. Core colors will remain the same from year to year, except in the bedding and tabletop designs, which will change to fit the season. Sofas and coordinated armchairs are upholstered in washed linens, wool with cashmere threads, velvets and a cotton-rayon mix. Some Orient-inspired sofas rest directly on the floor, while woven stools can be transformed into small tables. A big hit in New York is a 6-foot-high wood storage unit with drawers on both sides and mirrors on the lateral surfaces. It comes in oak, mocha iroko (an African tree) and pickled mocha iroko and is priced at $6,950. Armani likes altering surfaces, so woods are sanded, scratched and machined for unusual effects.

Ancient traditions also have been assimilated into the cannon. Using artisans from Italy's Murano Island, famous for its 1,000-year history of glassmaking, Armani has created simple vases and other glassware using gold leaf and milk-colored materials. Shagreen, a precious material popular in 16th century Japan that's taken from the skin of the Southeast Asian stingray, is used to cover small pieces of furniture, among them a side table, priced at $11,325. Parchment is used to make boxes, frames and trays. Bronze and silver plate are incorporated into vases, lamps and other accessories.

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