Zegna’s Artistic Director Alessandro Sartori Discusses The Vision And Future Of The House

Lara Mansour   |   11-06-2024

Zegna is one of the few luxury fashion brands today that has existed for over a century. Throughout this time, one thread has remained true; the innovative and forward-thinking mindset of the houses founder Ermenegildo Zegna is kept at the forefront of everything the brand does.

This encompasses using the finest craftsmen, ensuring the highest quality, understanding what men truly want from clothing and, of course, offering a more sustainable approach to fashion. Today, Zegnas Artistic Director Alessandro Sartori is tasked with ensuring the DNA and original values of the family business remain at the heart of everything they do. He lives and breathes Zegna and has truly become part of the family. Today, As the Villa Zegna is unveiled in Shanghai, we sat down with the Artistic Director to find out how this project is once again reaffirming the brands values and offering a new way of immersing clients into the Zegna Universe.

You were quoted saying “Oasi Zegna is not a place, its a mindset, tell us more about this

When we start a collection with a brief or moodboard, of course, we have our customers in mind, and we know what we want to give them or what we want to explore, but this is almost the background thought – we are surrounded and fueled by the values of Oasi Zegna. When you think that over 100 years ago, a man (Ermenegildo Zegna), decided to give back to a community that was working for him; through a huge natural reserve, – he planted half a million trees to increase oxygen in the area – that was the vision of someone who already thought with a modern mind. And this is always the platform where we start our projects, and we add layers from there. Even our choice of organic colours is inspired by this, (we have many iconic colours, but one above all is the colour of foliage, the dense orange you will know from our logo), or the fact that we are taking inspiration from activities that you can do in Oasi Zegna – from skiing to walking to climbing and so on – the fact that we have so many beautiful photos and references taken from Oasi, the fact that we are doing photoshoots over there, and the fact that we produce content there. When I create a coat for Mads [Mikkelson], I imagine him wearing that coat in the environment there, so its a full concept that we always keep as a platform in every project we do. 

Today we are in Shanghai for the rollout of Villa Zegna – why did you choose Shanghai?

The Villa is a very unique project, and we will be unveiling it worldwide. The journey starts here in Shanghai, but this is only the beginning. We want to be a global and a local company, and we want to be close to our communities around the world. Why Shanghai? Zegna started to delve into the Chinese market more than 30 years ago, and this is a way of connecting with the huge Zegna fanbase that we have here. So, it was important for us to start here and from Shanghai.

To what extent do you think creating experiential moments for your clients is crucial today? 

What we do is not just about selling clothes. If we think only in that way, we won’t be selling the global dream that we are offering. Of course, we are a business, and selling clothes is ultimately what we do, but that needs to be part of a global picture. We are not doing our job if we dont offer a one-to-one service with our stylists to help you dress yourself in the best version of yourself, not somebody else and if we dont know you and your habits and preferences how can we tell you what to wear? 

If you think of the past, the tailor, the hairdresser, and the doctor were, for men, the three people who touched their privacy. The modern version of those jobs is an evolution of that – and in my position, I need to know you, talk to you, and understand you, I need to explain the products I create and the content and experiences I prepared for you. So, when I go to my clients, its not for selling; its to do the best job possible for them, offering products with real values and real craftsmanship. 

Zegna has so many ateliers because we like human work thats impossible to explain because each one of our tailors has a lot of experience and their crafts, their brand and their hands are becoming part of the final product. Our brand has so many layers behind it and selling is one of those layers, but its not THE layer. 

Do you think this kind of approach is leading to more demand on bespoke clothing?

There is more demand for a one-to-one experience — that can be bespoke, personalized, or special pieces made for you in a full journey dedicated to you. 

You have changed many norms in the industry – how do you respect all the codes of the house, yet stay relevant with what youre offering?

There are days, and this morning was one of those days, and my last fashion show was one of those days, when I feel happy, free, and liberated from judgements and opinions because I see my work and my team’s work on real people. And when you see 15, 20, or 30 people dressed in your style, each wearing it in an individual way, but still interpreting the language that you had in your mind, you feel that the job is getting there. 

There is a concept conversation between myself and the customer, but it all starts from the work we do internally, respecting the values, the founder, the DNA of the family, and the relationship I have with the CEO where we keep discussing how to improve, what to offer more of, what to do better, where to go and so on. We spend hours talking about approach, style, beauty, and emotions. Everything is about the relationship between the brand and myself and the dialogue we create. I dont go out of the parameters but try to deep dive into the base. 

There are certain product lines that became icons – one of these is the Triple Stitch sneakers – to what do you tribute the success of an icon such as this?

Firstly, I think in the past we were all doing too many things. But to create an icon, you cannot have too many things happening at once that are all important, all iconic and all going in the same direction. Fashion is not only about what you do, but also about what you dont do. For example, if I have ten styles of sneakers, they cannot all be iconic – I will confuse my customers and dilute the design message. And thats why not doing certain things is also part of the success of what you do well. 

So, to design an icon, you should be very focused on what you want to do and what that product is for. Secondly, and even more importantly, the design of the product and the craftsmanship should be thought of accordingly. So maybe, you dont need only one season to create an icon, maybe you need two years, because you need to work until the object is the best possible it can be for what you want to achieve. That means that you cannot design thinking only about selling it for a certain season because you need to hit a budget – if you think in such a way, you will never design the best product. So, get out of the seasonal concept, start to reduce the number of styles you create, being very focused – that would be my advice for creating an icon. 

So why is Triple Stitch so successful? Because the brief was to offer the best, comfortable, luxury leisurewear shoe, to a silhouette that is a masterpiece in the world of our clients, and thats what we did. The idea behind the shoe is interesting because the three laces are connected to craftsmanship, inspired by the criss-cross stitching used by the Zegna tailors. The design existed when I joined, but it wasnt working because it was too heavy, too bulky, too rigid and not comfortable enough. So, we took the design and created the most comfortable shoe with the most exclusive leather, we updated the upper part and the sole and we had a design that worked. 

The overshirt is another item that became iconic and everyone has copied it! But I designed that overshirt personally in 2020 during Covid. At that time, no one thought a workwear overshirt that is normally produced in basic cotton, could be made in pure linen and cashmere and that that item could become an icon. But it did. 

Zegna works on several collaborations. What prerequisites do you consider when you undertake a partnership or collaboration? 

Dont do it solely for marketing reasons. Marketing is a big part, but it should not be the main driver. The driver should be adding value to a project. This means that you need integrity, you need to link with someone who shares your values, and you need to be able to speak to this person as he speaks to your customer because there needs to be a common benefit. We are looking for the right people, the right dream, the right aesthetic to create something unique and for that person to be able to speak to their community and for them to speak to our community and you should build a product that stays within that parameter. 

Some people say you have changed the way cashmere is seen in the market – why do you think they say this?

Because a material like cashmere, or ultra-fine fabrics, or incredible blends have always been treated as classics, which I think is wrong. I dont deny that a classic navy-blue cashmere coat is always a beautiful coat, but I also believe that I can transform that quality into something different, to create a new way of presenting luxury. And so I use cashmere fabrics for workwear over shirts – and nobody thought they would sell, but boom! They broke all the rules. 

So, I dont think we need to label mens fashion as always classic or crazy. Mens fashion is a fantastic space and somewhere in between those two, is what real men want to wear. 

I am very into creating something unique but real and relevant. 

Fast forward to today – what do you think men are looking for now from fashion, and what has changed in terms of consumer habits?

A lot has changed, and it keeps changing. I think today, men are looking for a one-on-one experience because not only do they not want to waste their money, they want to evolve. And if you dont have a one-on-one moment with your stylist, how do you elevate your look? How do you buy real value? How do you build your own silhouette? Customers today dont just want to buy the same item in many colors; they want to elevate their looks, and that is done by building a silhouette over time. Sometimes, I see men spending a lot of money on products that are completely wrong for them. What they need is one-to-one appointments and more time and attention spent on what suits them. This is one of the layers of Villa Zegna. 

The next mens fashion week is coming up – what can we expect?

Believe me, from Zegna, its always a very novel proposal, format, and language because its in our DNA to be at the forefront but linked to the company values. 

Villa Zegna is one example of this – when I was a child, I remember riding my bicycle in Piedmont and passing in front of the home of Zegnas founder – this is the villa that inspired Villa Zegna and to take that villa around the world, means to bring the story, values, language, and the new collections from Zegna around the world in a different manner. We didnt want to do a traditional event, we wanted to bring the principles and ideas of Villa Zegna to our clients around the world in order to show them what we are doing and to immerse them into our world. 

What is an objective you still want to achieve this year? 

We are working on several new projects. Some of these, respect what I told you about the different timing needed to create something perfect and so can take a year or two in our design studio, and some of these new projects which we will unveil this year or next year are really breakthroughs for menswear and I cant wait to showcase what were doing for our community. 

My next target is to unveil a couple of new projects in the next six months, starting with the next show, and they are very special projects. 

Sustainability has always been at the heart of Zegna; what are you working on now around this topic? 

We already have so many layers to this subject, so whatever we do now is additional to that. Of course, we started the process of recycling waste with ‘Use the Existing’ in 2017, we started creating Oasi cashmere three years ago, and today, that is 100 per cent traceable. We did the same with our Oasi Lino. In the industry, we are one of the best companies for values around sustainability. We have a balance of sustainability attached to the company. We invite anyone to see our production and our source. I think its very important to have full integrity to speak to your customers. You cant miss parts out and still be credible. That’s why we control every single step. Our production plays a big role in answering this question, and the idea of making the product internally is for quality and service, but it is also that we can be very honest and transparent about what we do. 

We are also working on a new aspect of Oasi Zegna, and some of this will be unveiled this year through our new projects. We need a few more months before we can reveal more, but stay tuned because we keep raising the bar and creating with the green mindset of our founder.