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Sunday Herald Dec
New York 2006
Vogue 2006                                                

Doingbird 2007


Cate Blanchett + Giorgio Armani

What do you find provocative? Cate Blanchett: I think the most provocative word in the English language is 'no'. Giorgio Armani:  The plight of children who are suffering from poverty and disease. I am inspired by Bono and Bobby Shriver's (Product) RED initiative to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. I am proud to be a partner through my Emorio Armani collection. Why are the Italian so good at what they do well - opera, cars, fashion, food - and not so good at politics? GA: Well now, I see it in a slightly different way. I agree that we are good at opera, car design, fashion and food, and would point out that these are all things that contribute to the Italian quality of life. We are a nation that values our lifestyle highly and subscribes to the notion of bella figura - the idea that you put forward our best aspect, however poor or miserable you might be. Think of the ritual of the passaggiata, in which people parade through the town in their finest clothes to show the world that they are fine indeed. Now, when it comes to politics, I agree that in terms of formal political process w suffer from factions and in-fighting and the like. And yet, in as much as politics can be seen as the process of government. I believe that the Italian people have a wonderful ability to govern themselves. However bad things get at parliamentary level, however chaotic and indecisive our party politics, however poor our economy becomes, the philosophy of Bella figura demands that we just get on with it as best we can. I am convinced that where Italian party politics visited on other nations it would precipitate major crisis and economic catastrophe, as many other nations rely on order from above. We seem to reply on order from below. In this sense, I think the Italians are, in fact, very good at politics. Remember, Machiavelli was an Italian! Are you self-conscious? GA: I am shy, but I am not sure if that is the same as being self-conscious. I am a private person and keep myself to myself, but if asked a question I speak my mind. I am not that concerned about what people think of me, so maybe I am not that self-conscious? CB: Yes, it's a very leading question - a question that provokes self consciousness! There is a vast difference between self-consciousness and self-awareness. Self awareness is vital for any creative person: to know what the material is and what you can bring to it - that is, to be conscious on one's technique. But technique alone cannot enliven a performance or give clay a form that speaks. Technique alone tastes of sawdust. It has to be informed by instinct and being available to what is around you in that moment 0 those moments of being simultaneously aware and unaware. Is the creative process painful? GA: Yes, but then most things that are worthwhile involve some degree of difficulty. It is also exciting, invigorating and often surprising. CB: I agree. It is, at its best, the most exhilarating and invigorating life-affirming experience when it's all flowing, but when it's not one can feel like a complete fraud. It's a gossamer thing and what worked last time doesn't always work the second time. I guess that's part of the adrenaline rush - finding new ways in, new approaches to try and tackle what is in front of you. But, hey, it's a pleasurable pain and I couldn't wish for a better job. Is diplomacy or talent more important to success? GA: Well, as I said earlier, Machiavelli was an Italian. Seriously, I believe that everything starts with talent. As a designer, I don't think it is possible to become successful just through diplomatic skills, as in the end you must produce work that will be judged by the press and the consumer. Having said that, there have been fashion designers who have had talent but have lacked the diplomatic touch, and maybe this has led some of them to not achieve what they might have done. The fashion industry, like all industries, has its own rules and is a type of game. Those whop lay the game well tend to do better than those who don't - they get better breaks, reviews and publicity, they form good relationships with the media, the financiers and sponsors and, most importantly, with the public. In some areas other than fashion - which is, after all, my sphere of knowledge - I get the impression that diplomacy can take you a long way. You see, those who have a talent for diplomacy, and for little else, are perfectly suited to corporate culture, where your actual ability may never be quantifiable and only your ability to "get on" is what counts. CB: Talent is the only thing that endures and part of talent is what one makes of one's opportunities - how one handles the , what one shapes them into. I think a large portion of talent is curiosity and, let's face it, humility; the ability to say "I have no clue; I don't have the answers," and the courage and perseverance to find out. But it depends on what you characterize as success. I, for one, don't think the sole measure of artistic success is people pleasing. Often one's creative role is to provoke, to be impolite and apolitical. However on a personal level, I like a sprinkling of diplomacy. I don't take a bill-in-a-china-shop approach to life. Call me old-fashioned but I value good manners. Doesn't that make me a diplomat? How do you view your work in relation to society? GA: My work makes me happy, and that is why I do it, that is what my motivation has always been. I am told that my development of deconstructed tailoring brought about something of a revolution in dress, bringing comfort to smart clothing and that, in particular, I equipped professional women with a wardrobe that could compete on equal terms with those of their male colleagues for the first time. If this is true then I am glad, but as far as I was concerned, I was just trying to design great clothes that would make people look and feel good. CB: Mr Armani has been utterly revolutionary in the way we perceive the line of our clothed selves. From the time I could the "fashion" and "style" he has been inextricably linked with the concepts and it is a rare feat in today's world to be simultaneously contemporary and classic. And to be constantly evolving. GA: There is no social programme at Armani and I am fully aware that in the scheme of world affairs fashion can seem ephemeral. But if I can bring people pleasure by making them look great and feel confident and good about themselves, then I am happy. The great exception to this philosophy is, of course, (Product) RED, which is a brilliant idea. Now I can design dedicated (Product) RED items and give a percentage of the revenue from sales to the fight against AIDS, and thus actually help make a real difference to people's lives. (Product) RED is a great concept as it means that people like myself can do what we do well, and turn our talents into revenue for charity. If (Product) RED becomes, as I hope it will, a huge global business, then we could really see fashion design do some good. CB: I remember Nick Enright instilling in my class at drama school the importance of having a generous nature in the acting profession; that theatre is about communicating and illuminating what it means to be human. It is always ultimately for an audience and it's vital to respect them and their intelligence. One can be bogged down in the pettiness of this profession sometimes, so his words - and the man himself - are a pick-me-up. And theatre does have a vital function in society. It is a reflection. But in terms of what one's so called 'celebrity' can feed back into society... Well, as I tell my son when he dons his Spiderman suit, "Sweetheart, use your powers for good not evil!"


Bono and Bobby Shriver set up DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade Africa) in 2002, which leveraged public-sector investment into the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. More recently, they established (Product) RED to engage big business in the fight against AIDS. So far RED credit cards, phones, shoes and fashion have been made available, and the companies that produce them are committed to donating a certain percentage of their profits to the Global Fund. For more information,     Cate Blanchett is the Brand ambassador and face of SK-II