As the biggest tailoring player, Zegna’s direction is often an indication of where the suit is going. Is the suit dead? Is it coming back? In a menswear scene that is still heavily dominated by street and sportswear, Alessandro Sartori presented a collection that perhaps answered these questions.
But more than a designer, Sartori is also a craftsman and a showman.
It was a mesmerising sight at the Zegna show. As the sun set against the Palazzo Mondadori by Oscar Niemeyer, the warm orange rays of the Lombardian sun bounced off the reflective runway, creating a glow that was simply magical. Sartori knew that he had only approximately 14 minutes to use that sunset to create magic—the result was atmospheric. The gigantic structure created a grand impact; yet by simply admiring from afar, the building exuded a certain lightness, much like the clothes Sartori showed on the runway.
“Creation for me always stems from a technical challenge. I am presenting shapes that are bold and voluminous, yet very light, in layers of meshes, wools, silks,” says Sartori. “I found the same challenge in the architecture of this space. It is the perfect place to unleash the Zegna crew of individuals who recognise themselves in the XXX logo, which runs from the clothes to the setup, unifying the message: a symbol of couture craft that is also the most personal and unexpected expression of Zegna.”
What was perhaps the most unexpected was how unsuit-y the collection was. For starters, the Triple-X logos were abundant: debossed on leather sweatshirts, knitted on collars, stitched on sneakers, and printed on leather bags and even an iPhone cover. And then there were garment-dyed kind of denim, suede mesh tops, boxy shirts and jackets in double sleeve, ankle-hugging joggers, playful (but random) printed objects on jackets, coats, shirts, chunky sneakers, hybrid footwear, leather visors—all aesthetically pleasing, highly wearable, and very unsuit-y. It was a new brand language spoken to a post-millennial crowd looking something more substantial that just a logo tee.
But of course, there were plenty of suiting looks too, in a Sartori kind of way: a tailored jacket is paired with joggers, a bomber with a slack, and a multi-toned check jacket worn over a different check pair of trousers. So, is the suit dead? Perhaps not. Sartori is simply imposing new structure over the old, and he does it pretty damn well.
See all the looks from the collection here.
ESQUIRE: Can you tell us more about Ermenegildo Zegna’s theme of ‘Defining Moments’?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI: It was June 2016 when we thought we could be bolder with our campaigns and a broader concept for the whole Zegna brand, not just about one line or the other. We started thinking that, instead of three different lines belonging to one brand—the Couture XXX (dedicated to the fashionable guy who loves quality), Ermenegildo Zegna (of Supreme tailoring and Made to Measure, luxury wear) and Z Zegna (dedicated to active wear with tailoring details). The term ‘Defining Moments’ is about conversations between people of different generations or ethnicities who share similar ideas and styles. The style is to be crafted—modern, very stylish, very personal—as today we style ourselves in a very personal way. The conversations that happen between different generations is what’s happening in our stores. We have the 25-year-olds coming in, 50 years old too—people are connected by values. When we started to create ideas around this concept, we came up with an idea to remember important moments in our life. What is it that’s changing your life and is making you the person you are today? We wanted to go deeper and more personal.
ESQ: What about the menswear direction that Zegna is taking?
AS: Today, what is really important to us is the connections that we have, and these connections are happening every moment—through our digital platforms, through PR, and through marketing activities; a lot of it also happens in the store. We need people with specific skills, who have the ability to create relationships in respect to styling. For example, when you go to your tailor, to your sales assistant or hair stylist, you build a relationship and you either trust him or you don’t. And if you trust him, you accept his suggestions. For us, that relationship is the most important thing. I think through styling, that is the most important connection we try to give our customers today.
ESQ: You’ve mentioned that luxury is a craft. How do you think consumers these days look at craft, compared to design?
AS: I think that luxury [in fashion] is more dedicated to exclusivity. Craft is part of this exclusivity, but it’s not the only factor. If I craft a product but produce one million of the same piece, that’s not exclusivity. There are customers who are really keen [on the craft]; when they ask what is happening, they go into detail. But there are other people who are more interested in other points like style, rather than the material or construction of the garment. We don’t push our craft because we want to show off. The quality of our craft is an added value, to allow our garment to last as long as possible.
ESQ: What is your view regarding craftsmanship?
AS: Oh, we are very much into it. Because our team has a very strong passion for craftsmanship and we have a lot of experience and skills. Our designers for the couture line and small leather goods are very technical in terms of product making, even before they were designers. With the skills and passion that we hold, it becomes very easy to invest in quality because our company produces 70 per cent of what we do internally. It’s like a kitchen: when a chef has all the tools internally and the best ingredients already available, it becomes very beautiful and easy to be good as part of the job.
ESQ: What do you think is the biggest difference between the Eastern and Western consumer style?
AS: Today I see Asia moving faster than Europe, but I’m not looking at it in a micro sense. For example, Omotesando or Melrose in LA, there is an internal attitude and style influenced by the local culture there. In terms of countries as a whole, today Asia is definitely moving faster than Europe or America because Asian people are more open to the approach of beautiful and fashionable products.
ESQ: So how does Zegna’s stay current in line with present consumer demands?
AS: From digital presence down to the events, how we serve in the store, the way we do fashion shows—which are not just fashion shows, they are big events—it’s a completely different narrative. Of course, the design is the centre of it all, but the relationship, the way we communicate, and the type of journey we offer is completely different—it’s very beautiful, it has to be aligned. If you create a product but don’t have the right photo, video or strategy to communicate it, then you are lost. Everything today needs to be linked. We’re very much into the whole digital revolution, knowing that each brand has its own approach. If you’re a brand that sells t-shirts, that’s the easiest way to sell [through e-commerce]. But if you’re selling bespoke suits, it’s difficult to sell online. At Zegna, we like the multi-layered platform that we use. When we’re launching one product, everything is coordinated: from the advertising, the window display at the store, and the [sales assistants] in the store who need to be trained.
ESQ: You’ve been in the fashion industry for decades, what are some lessons that you have learned?
AS: I’ve learned so much. But I have to say one thing I’ve always liked is to work in a very open, positive, modern environment. To have an open mindset, to be responsible, committed and to be very inclusive and passionate—that’s very important, even more today and I’ve seen it through all my colleagues who are having great success. I think that the energy that you build can snowball, and you can generate so much good karma. Being strong in demands and requests, it may be tough, but with a positive approach, it is very important.
ESQ: What is your prediction for the menswear industry for the next five years?
AS: The only constant that I see is change. The people and brands that don’t want to change, they have problems. For example, I still have colleagues (who don’t work in our company) that tell me, “Oh, you know we don’t agree on doing this.” Things like couture sneakers. We spend the same amount of time to make a couture sneaker as we do to make the best couture classic shoe—Goodyear, double construction and more than two hours to make the foundation before putting the shoe together, that is the same amount of time we need to make a couture sneaker. People are clever, they want comfort and style. So the combination is very important. That’s why we need to keep changing, keep evolving, listening to our customers. There’s so much change in such a short time, and if you’re not able to organise yourself, you’ll suffer. But if you can, you win.
Interview by Sarah Chong.