Would you consider Zegna to be a part of your inevitable destiny? From being born very close to the original wool mill in Trivero, to joining the company after graduating from the Istituto Marangoni Milano, to helping set up Z Zegna as its first creative director, and then a return as the brand’s first artistic director, the pull of Zegna has been a strong one throughout your career.
Even after my departure, I felt that Zegna was a fantastic place, that it was the place to work in menswear. When I rejoined the company in the role of Artistic Director, I felt a tremendous energy inside of me. Gildo Zegna changed everything to make the brand fresher. The only constant at Zegna is the appraisal of the finest craftsmanship. It is not only the key to the brand but also to my design. What I really like to do at Zegna is build a vision for what men really need and what they want. I want to enhance rather than transform.
You have been at your position now for over 18 months, but have seen the luxury menswear business from close quarters for many years. How has the business changed, since your last stint at Z Zegna, and even the time you spent at Berluti?
Everything is so different today, compared to what it was years ago. Today everything changes in a second. In order to be constantly in sync with the times, I believe brands—big brands in particular—need to get lean and fast, which is exactly what I have in mind for Zegna. I think that today the vision for clothing has to be totally multi-generational. In the past, there was always this perception that a younger man should dress in one
way but someone a bit older should dress in another way, and there was always this opposition. I want to create garments that are appealing across all age groups. And it must appeal across all nationalities. But this is not an approach of uniformity. Quite the opposite. All these men should be united by stylish, incredibly beautifully made clothes, but clothes that also give them the possibility to dress with a very personal approach.
They should be able to be themselves in the best way through our clothes. This is to me the essence of personalisation: being able to establish an authentic dialogue with our customers around the globe.
Double-breasted jackets without ties, trousers cut like tracksuit bottoms, roomy pants, fluid blazers, leather jackets with drawstrings, joggers, hiking boots – the kind of looks one saw on the runway this year from Ermenegildo Zegna couture is beyond conventional. Where do you see the brand five years from now?
Craft and modernity, two very different worlds. When you find the way to perfectly merge them, that’s the major innovation in style. I really like the idea of working on a strong identity. And I like the idea of identifying a
style and being recognisable for that style. I don’t think there is anything sexier than thinking about a silhouette for a man, designing for that, working on the product, building a story, and then seeing a stranger on the street wearing something that you designed and observing him, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. But I think the idea has a lot of meanings. And mostly, you have a vision of what you designed, and real men that could wear that. So, working on this principle, I think that what I would like to be able to do is build and convey these messages.
If you were to crystal gaze, how do you think men will dress five years from now?
More relaxed. More freedom. More creative. I think people are trying to buy fewer pieces, which blend in a much free-er, better and fresher way with their wardrobe. Combining tailoring with sportswear effortlessly; sneakers with evening jackets, classical blazers with jogging pants. That is the new dress code. It’s not about accessories like ties or scarves, but more about sophisticated, fresh combinations.
You have moved very fast since you took over as artistic director. Your innovations have included both the business side and products, including cutting production time, the new bespoke service, expanding the MTM range to include luxury leisurewear, providing customers the option of buying looks as soon as they are displayed on the runway, introducing capsule collections like Zegna Toyz, MTM shoes, second skin etc, providing the formal suits a casual edge, reimagining the design of the Zegna retail stores etc. How has the reception to each of these been? Have any of these not worked in the manner that you thought?
We started writing a new chapter of the Zegna history by developing a new strategy. The idea we implemented is to have one brief and one seasonal mood, and the same colour palette. So we have moved from three brands to one brand with three lines, but with a strong and coherent aesthetic and one style message.The role of artistic director makes it possible to simultaneously work on product, global image and merchandise.
This vertical integration is essential to deliver a coherent message to our customers. I want to make sure
that what’s sent down the catwalk actually reaches the shops.
Tell us about your inspiration behind the Pelle Tessuta collection and how it has been received worldwide.
It was the idea of making a traditionally woven fabric, where the yarns are crafted from pure leather. To achieve this, we have to cut these yarns first and glue them end to end, using a natural enzyme. Then we have a special machine that turns these threads of leather into tubes that are 2mm thick. These coiled leather yarns are woven together on a very special loom. The yarns are held in place in the warp position and these are interlaced with horizontal weft yarns of the same Nappa leather, just like the old looms that are coming from Japan.
And it is a very slow process, but one that creates something that is extraordinary and that is very aligned with our tradition as weavers. Here you have a new type of leather, which is extremely robust yet very supple. Also, because it is woven, if it is damaged we can always repair it. To me the idea of things that age beautifully and can be repaired any time in the future is very important. At Zegna, we don’t make clothes that are only for one
season, we make clothes that are relevant for your whole life. So our materials need to fit this need.
Similarly, the ‘Tiziano’ sneaker has been a part of a couple of seasons and is probably the most sought after accessory currently. Tell us the story behind it.
I feel that accessories today are no longer an independent component, but an integral part of creating silhouettes. I would say I am a shoe-addict. I always work with one shoe, also in my personal wardrobe. The purity of the craft meets the modernity of the design. In creating the Tiziano Sneaker, I merged the intensively artisanal with the resolutely contemporary. All Tiziano sneakers feature rich couture detailing, including
the unique leather insert on the sole, a subtle detail inspired by bespoke shoe construction, symbolising the Crafting Modernity spirit of Couture.
You recently collaborated with your long-time friend and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, designing the clothes for the L.A. dance project. Is this something that you intend doing more often?
My old friend Benjamin is a choreographer and a dancer. Everything he does is important to me. We share such similar sensitivity, values and visions. That was the reason we carried the collaboration out without hesitation, despite our different fields. He was the one who suggested it for the first time. It was a special challenge for me to create wardrobes, considering the movements of dancers. It was very interesting. I also recently created a wardrobe for a beautiful musician duo from the UK, the Hurts. They have started their new tour and they are wearing Ermenegildo Zegna Couture on stage – it’s very exciting. Many other projects like these are coming.
You have a degree in textile engineering and the effects of this are in full show in your collections – treatments like ‘Casentino’ and ‘Techmerino’, two and four-ply wool fabric specially created for you etc. How do you see the Zegna customer taking to them?
Innovation is running very fast, we need to create fabrics which are able to merge Zegna heritage and its determination to be at the forefront of garment technology. The treatment of super noble materials in a very modern and technological way, the combination of pieces to create a new silhouette, and the union of contrasts all open a door to new territory. I try to add modernism and performances on classic fabrics to meet the needs of our customers. When you looked at our clothes with jacquard method closely, you can see that classic fabrics are used to create a new material. And this fabric created a special suit. We just tried a square black quilt material and made a suit with Casentino fabrics, which are hardly used for making suits. It is an interesting part that the same fabrics are used for a wider range of clothes, such as suits, and parkas.
Can you list for us three of your innovations in design/fabrics, That in your own assessment stand out among the many that you have done?
- PELLE TESSUTA: is the ‘contamination’ between old and new, a traditional loom and modern machinery. This isn’t just about creating new products, but it is about the story behind it, about putting elements such as computers and old machinery together to create new generation materials.
- TECHMERINO WASH & GO: For Spring Summer 2018, we introduced the latest innovation in Techmerino, the natural high-performance Merino wool fabric that ensures maximum comfort even in dynamic situations. With the Techmerino Wash&Go project, Z ZEGNA has created summer suiting that can be domestically machine washed while maintaining its comfort, performance and naturally casual fit. Made exclusively with Techmerino fabric, the construction and materials allow these garments to be gentle
washed at a temperature of 30°C, without altering the wearability, performance or quality standards. This means that both the suit jacket and trousers can be laundered at home any time they need to be cleaned or freshened.
- SPORTIFICATION OF COUTURE: The encounter between absolute craftsmanship and the resolutely contemporary. Applying sportswear techniques to those of tailoring and vice versa to produce a carefully
assembled “outdoor couture” offer: an evening jacket worn with gym shoes, a classic blazer worn over trainer pants.