The artistic director of Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna, Alessandro Sartori, speaks exclusively to A&E, discussing his vision for the brand that brings his passion to life.
If there’s one man who knows about the men’s luxury fashion industry it’s Alessandro Sartori. The Italian born Artistic Director has spent his entire career working with luxury menswear brands.
He is currently a leading force in the industry, creating timeless yet forward thinking designs for luxury Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna. Since 2016 Sartori has been at the helm of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, with full creative responsibility across all Zegna brands and all creative initiatives, the first to be appointed for this specific role. Sartori is no stranger to the brand however, as he has previously held the position of creative director of Z ZEGNA; the brand’s diffusion line. Over an 8-year period between 2003 and 2011, Sartori moulded Z ZEGNA into being an international brand, recognized for rewriting the rules of contemporary tailoring as well as continuing to maintain the status of the couture line as the powerhouse it is. After a five year break while working with Berluti, building it’s ready-to-wear business from scratch, Sartori returned to Ermenegildo Zegna.
Alessandro Sartori now has full creative direction of the whole Zegna group and has taken it from strength to strength, implementing his unique take on design, developing a concept that combines traditional tailoring with sportswear; a market that has grown hugely popular over recent years.
For his Winter 18 Couture Collection show, Sartori presented a collection inspired by the Oasi Zegna, the Alpine nature reserve surrounding the Zegna family’s home. The mountain scape setting was covered in artificial snow, and the collection was inspired by mountain sports. After a hugely well-received collection, Sartori followed up recently with the Summer 19 presentation, continuing the theme of sport but adjusting it for the warmer season.
With over 500 monobrand stores, Ermenegildo Zegna is now, by far, the largest luxury menswear brand in the world, so directing this brand into the future is no easy task. Here, Alessandro Sartori talks us through his inspirations for the current collection and vision for the brand going forward.
What can you tell us about the autumn winter 18 collection?
The starting points of this collection were, from one side the inspiration of the Oasi Zegna and the work of Thomas Flechtner, from the other side the idea of a juxtapose of beautiful, eclectic, modern, precise and sharp tailoring with deconstructed, light and voluminous outerwear and sportswear. Mostly we did not want to blend the two but thus to create a new style that is this Couture sportswear, or Couture collection.
What was the idea behind the snowy concept of the show?
For the Ermenegildo Zegna Couture FW18 collection we worked around sartorial neologisms, as the title of the show, Snowriting, suggested. Formal merges with informal in a sublime snowy scenario. I am interested in expanding traditional techniques, creating hybrid shapes that are apt for new uses, getting contemporary function out of traditional craft. When an artist arouses my curiosity, I compulsively search to get to know more about him, sometimes going a long way back in time. From time to time, as was the case in the winter 2018 show, this gives rise to joint endeavour: the snowy set for the show was suggested to me by the works of Thomas Flechtner, who designed the set with me.
Who is the Zegna man?
The Ermenegildo Zegna man is a man aware of the quality, the creativity, and the traditions in menswear, at the same time he is young with an international background, confident and mostly he has a modern approach. It’s for this man that we created the Winter 2018 Collection that actually follows what we did last Summer. Also the Summer 2019 will be a continuation of this idea. Basically, we have in mind a modern person who travels, who knows how to style, who has confidence, and likes to wear different garments. So he’s a man on the move, a man that adores fashion but also has a strong confidence which he is expressing through what he is wearing.
The models in your show have a particular look but are also very varied in terms of their culture – what is the thought process behind this?
The 45 looks of this collection show 45 different characters. The style of having one uniform image for a show is a thing of the past and no longer suitable for today’s fashion environment, because you can’t possibly demand all models to have the same standard look. That’s unrealistic.
How do you think the modern man’s needs have changed in recent years when it comes to their wardrobe?
Actually today the thing that changes the most every season and definitely changed a lot in the last two/three years is the styling. Maybe because the self-confidence is growing, maybe because each one of us is watching and is looking at many more images than before, but for sure the styling confidence. Each single customer that we meet in the store, and we meet him when we do our one-to-one appointments, has much developed styling sense. More feeling and sensibility than before. This is also the design direction I propose. More relaxed. More freedom. More creativity.
How do you go about making modern designs that are also timeless?
What I really like to do is build a vision for what men really need and what they want. When you dress someone – even before designing and you start working on the body, working on the measurements – you really see there are things that are perfect on someone that enhance them to their beat, while other things might be beautiful but don’t work that well. I want to enhance rather than transform.
Are there any trends you see coming through in menswear that are surprising you?
On the whole, menswear is going to be more diverse. I feel that it is going to be a prolonged revolution, and it will take time to go over and over.
Do you think the demand for luxury menswear is still as great as it used to be?
I think it’s even growing because today men are much more conscious about their style. They know what they want and they focus on the idea of building a total wardrobe able to answer to their needs and tastes. It’s not anymore about buying a designer accessory, It’s about meeting their lifestyle while granting their aesthetic desires.
How do you think the brand is appealing to the younger technology savvy customer?
Responsiveness to change. Being able to be pliant, flexible, fast – that’s the secret. Without neglecting creativity. Making bold proposals, being capable of taking risks always fosters business. And this applies to all sectors. For example the number of items presented in a collection. Ten years ago still, most of the garments seen on the catwalks each season were not produced commercially and customers would not find them in the stores. Today we make sure that nearly half of what you see at the show can be purchased. We do this not only by our efforts upstream to better streamline the offer and avoid excesses, for instance in the colorama, but also downstream, by rethinking the way we distribute our products and make them available to our customers. The omnichannel strategy combines what is referred to as off-line and on-line sales and has become a must in the luxury goods market. We need a 360° approach, diversification of the offering. Last but not least: social media. I love the immediacy of social media. Look at my Instagram. I can read instantly the comments and look at the photos taken by all the show guests. Some photographed certain special details on the clothes. Some like to photograph sneakers. We can see from different angles what everyone likes.
And what about men’s luxury fashion – how would you define it today?
The world is changing, everything has sped up, people shop differently and our competitors are not the same. Some of them didn’t even exist four or five years ago. Our potential customers feel more and more free to express their identity; they choose a brand because they like it, not because of its recognisability. This new approach requires us to be more responsive and capable of presenting more collections. We can offer a narrower range but it has to be renewed more often. Digital communication, everything that is happening in the social networks has changed our way of doing things: our roots haven’t changed but our agenda has been drastically revised. Clearly, a whole series of pieces that were still essential not long ago—hats, umbrellas, ties—have practically disappeared. But others such as caps and scarves have replaced them. What has really changed is the motivation for wearing them. In the past we all had our standards in the area of elegance: I remembered how my father dressed, I would look at people in the street, I used to buy Men’s Vogue. Now we are living in pace with the click culture. Networks like Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram are sources of inspiration. You might be confronted with hundreds of pictures a week or even every day. That is where trends are born and die. 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 scarfs but more about sophisticated, fresh combinations.
What do you see as the future for the brand?
The thing that is very important for Zegna is that our vision for clothing is totally multigenerational. 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. The idea behind Zegna is 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. The same quality Zegna guarantees through “sheep to shop” approach but with a new modern take on style and silhouettes, together with a fresh and more casual attitude as you have seen in the show. Craft and modernity, two very different worlds. When you find the way to perfectly merge them, here come the major innovation in style.
What do you consider as luxury?
The first time you experience a dream you always wished.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The first Z ZEGNA Fashion Show in NYC in February 2007, It was the first runway show of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. Z Zegna successfully participated at five New York Fashion Weeks before moving to Milan in June 2009. Then on July 1, 2011 the appointment as Artistic Director at Berluti, with the aim of creating a luxury total wardrobe. And then, most of all, on February 5, 2016 the appointment to the newly created position of Artistic Director with responsibility across all Zegna brands and for all creative functions.
Where do you go for inspiration?
In regards to my personal creative inspirations I have a passion for pictures; I do quite a lot of photography myself. When I begin a collection, I assemble the shots of men I find inspiring, most of whom I know personally, but also others I do not know at all. Then I try to imagine how what they are wearing can influence the way they live and vice-versa. From time to time something in a film, a documentary, an exhibition stirs me. And also travels inspire me a lot, especially in countries that make me feel good, where I can meet open and interesting people
Tell us something about yourself that no one knows?
I love cooking any kind of risotto! The one with mushrooms is my favourite.
What are you most passionate about?
I like modern art and vintage cars, I love the sense of freedom when driving alone. I also like contemporary photography. As to movies, I like movies directed by Fellini and the Coen Brothers, about crazy people or normal people doing crazy things. Also, I love “The Ice Storm” TV series. It’s crazy. I also like David Lynch’s work. As to a muse, that would be my mother. She is a seamstress. I learnt to sew from her.