As one of the oldest fashion houses in Italy (110 years to be exact) Ermenegildo Zegna is rich in Italian culture and tradition. Founded in 1910 in the Trivero in Northern region of Italy, Zegna has spent a century establishing, preserving and innovating with traditional Italian crafts and methods.
While the clothes that are made today are very different from those 100 years ago, the passion and attention to detail that was there from the beginning still run deep at the home of Zegna.
Supporting Italy has been very important to the men’s fashion house since the beginning. In the 1930s, founder Ermenegildo Zegna began actively promoting social facilities in his native town Trivero and he provided hundreds of jobs for the local community. He also planted thousands of trees and financed the panoramic road, which was named after him. Then in 1993, the Group created the Oasi Zegna, a protected natural area in the mountains surrounding Trivero. In 2014 the Oasi was granted the patronage of FAI Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust of Italy. So preserving the beauty and heritage of Italy is something that has always been at the heart of the brand.
Pioneering Zegna’s creative development and direction today is Artistic Director Alessandro Sartori. A family man, with a passion for design, Sartori’s values align perfectly with those of the House and that has seen a great partnership blossom in the years he has worked with Zegna. Alessandro grew up in Italy with a close-knit family before moving to Milan to pursue a career in fashion. Here he speaks honestly of his love for his home country, his family values and taking the time to reflect and plan the future.
What does Italy mean to you?
Italy to me is about Emotion. It is a touching country, not only because it is my country but also because there are so many generations of people living together, and there is so much history. Everyone in Italy has a lot of passion. Every time I think about my country, even when I’m not here, I feel touched by this very emotional feeling.
What do you think is the fascination with the concept of “Made in Italy”?
It goes back to art and music that are instilled in the history of Italy. Italy is unique in that we unite a very high level of creativity with very good handmade work and craftsmanship. We are able to associate two very interesting areas – the creativity and the capability of people. This is something special and it happens in food, music, art, fashion and so on. There is a deep understanding of how it is possible to do work by hand with maximum quality.
Italy has suffered greatly with this pandemic – when the situation is over what do you expect to see from the recovery of the crisis?
For sure we need a transition period which will likely last until a vaccine is found. Some changes will happen during this period and others will be once the vaccine is found. I was recently talking with a friend of mine who is a cardiologist in Milan and she told me that they are already seeing a lot of panic about what is going to happen next, especially in this transition period. And actually, it could be a period that we may never fully leave since there are many things that we need to think about and take care of that we didn’t consider before. After the lockdown, everything needs to be different and it will take a lot of time for things to go back to ‘normal’.
But moving forward to after this transition period there is going to be a very big understanding of who we are, how we are made, what we are in terms of people and what our real values are. We will have better relationships with each other and we will spend more time with others; cooking, talking etc. I’m sure Italy will enter a new phase that will see a stronger relationship between people.
When I move to fashion, I think it will change for the better. I’m not saying everything will be different, but we can change a lot. Maybe we can do the things that we were scared or hesitant to do before. Maybe as a brand we could travel differently, spend more time with people instead of doing huge collections, maybe it’s better to do something smaller and even more creative and more qualitative. We can think about processes that might change and we can maybe have a new relationship with the customers and offer a more personal service. I’m sure that something big and better could come after this crisis, but I don’t think this will happen in the next few months, I am talking further in the future after the vaccine is found.
Do you think there will be a change in the buying habits of customers?
Moving forward I think there will be a change. I think the buying habits of customers will be deeper and more invested and maybe they will buy less. When it comes to the brand and the fashion buyers, what I have seen in the last couple of years is buyers spending a huge budget in two or three hours, but I don’t think that will happen anymore. 15 years ago people would come to the showroom for one whole day, we can’t go back to that, but at the same time, buying for thousands of stores and looking through a huge collection in two hours is something I don’t think will be realistic anymore. I see less huge collections but I also see more time dedicated to how to buy the product and how to improve and create a relationship that is more one-to-one with our customers and so on. So, in this case, I think the approach will be different.
We have seen the huge success of the “What Makes a Man” campaign – what will be the message that you are sharing going forward and how will this campaign continue?
This is something we are discussing internally but we still haven’t come to a conclusion yet. However, we will continue with the concept of “Use the Existing”. It’s very crucial to me to continue to have huge respect for the environment, for the people and everything related to the future and the next generations. This is something we want to consider very deeply as part of the What Makes a Man campaign going forward.
We know sustainability is a subject that’s very important to you – what can you tell us about Zegna and sustainability going forward?
I don’t think there is an option at this time to wait regarding sustainability. The Zegna family started with a sustainable vision over 100 years ago so it is in our DNA and I also share this very strong idea of sustainability. We must stay strong on not creating pollution and be as sustainable as we possibly can, but on the other side I want to move forward with having as little waste as possible. At Zegna the dream is to have zero waste in the future. It is doable if we all work in the same direction.
To what extent do you believe that brands nowadays should invest in giving an experience to the customers?
We have always worked on having one-to-one moments and a very personalised approach. This is both through the in-store experience, but also the relationship that we as a brand have with our clients. I am a big believer myself, and so is the brand, in offering exclusive moments, experiences, and products to the consumer and this is our future. I much prefer taking care of a customer for an hour, rather than having many customers at the same time, because if I want to help that customer in the best way and nd a look that allows them to make the best of themselves, we need to spend time working together. This has always been a big part of the brand but I think it will be focused on even more in the future.
What can you tell us about the inspiration and essence of the spring/summer 2020 collection?
This collection is mostly related to how a city like Milan can be renovated using something that is already existing and we focused on the “Use the Existing” concept and how materials that are already in existence can be re-purposed into new clothing items. Silhouette- wise everything is very comfortable, softer, with bigger volumes and beautiful natural shapes. We used a lot of light materials from the highest quality fibres you can imagine. The colours are earthy tones with accents of pink, sunflower yellow and fresher summer colours.
When this crisis is over – what is the first thing that you’re going to do?
There are two things. The first is to go for beautiful dinners – one with friends and one with my family. I really want to unite my family and have a great celebration together.
The second desire I have is to take my camera and go for a weekend away, somewhere in Italy. There isn’t one specific place I like, there are many, but just to breathe the fresh Italian air and see the landscape, meet the people and eat the food. I really need that.
If you had to choose where is your favourite place to travel to in Italy?
There are many but if I had to choose one it would be Sicily. I’ve been several times and I love it there. I want to feel and breathe the seaside, taste the Italian food and connect with nature.
Growing up what are some of your first memories of Italy?
Well-dressed men. I have memories of my father from when I was probably three or four years old. He would go to his room and get ready and he would dress up to go out. He used to wear a button-up shirt with a tie and a double-breasted suit and a coat with a beautiful hat. He always used to keep his hat in those round boxes. I was fascinated by this and by the elegance.
Can you share with us some Italian traditions that you still to this day do with your family and friends?
All of these traditions that I have kept are related to celebration. My uncle and aunt have a very beautiful garden where they grow vegetables. Once a year, at the end of June on a Sunday, we have a long lunch in the garden with family and friends and we eat what has been grown there. Everything is fresh and we have fresh homemade pasta – it’s a very traditional lunch that we do every summer. Then, of course, we have big celebrations at Easter, Christmas, and for birthdays. They are always very Italian and very traditional. Another interesting tradition that we have is to pass secrets of cooking and also of trust to a younger member of the family. I remember teaching my cousin how to sew and how to create a pattern for a garment. I remember the two of us and my older brother learning how to cook the best gnocchi and lasagne. My mum would teach us about sh and my aunt would teach us how to cook meat. All of our traditions are related to crafts and food and they are all passed down through generations.
What is the motto you are living by at this time?
Our actions today will shape our tomorrow.
How would you describe Italy in one word?
I would go back to my first answer – for me Italy is emotion.
How are you spending these days at home?
I am trying to keep a normal routine. I live in a compound of industrial apartment buildings and I see many people outside using this time as a holiday. I’m not doing that however since I want to and try to keep a routine, to feel strong and alive. I wake up around 7.30 am, do one hour of workout, then I cook my breakfast (I have time for this now which I love!) Then I work until 1 pm, then I cook again, and then I work from 2.30 pm until 7/7.30pm and then I cook again. So I try to stay active. Of course, I spend Sunday on the terrace, reading a book and listening to music, but I don’t want to get out of routine and feel strange when we do return to work. I enjoy being home early in the evening, which is something that I don’t normally do, so now I have more chance to read and watch movies. I’ve already read four books so far!
What’s your favourite Italian phrase?
Italy is a place where people are embracing each other and are always in contact with each other and very linked to traditions and family. I feel very attached to my father and there is a four-word sentence that resonates with me, and that is: “Tale padre, tale glio” (like father, like son). It represents me and my father, so it is a sentence I really love.