Z FOR ZEGNA

In­spi­ra­tion from out­go­ing cre­ative di­rec­tor, Ste­fano Pi­lati, and his AW16 run­way.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE - KURT ISWARIENKO BRAD HOMES ALICE CA­VANAGH PHO­TOG­RA­PHY STYLING WORDS

The spec­ta­cle out­side Teatro Ve­tra, the scene of the Ermenegildo Zegna Cou­ture show, threat­ens to over­shadow the run­way it­self. Hordes of street-style pho­tog­ra­phers, Tommy Ton in­cluded, swarm about, on the look­out for usual sus­pects, such as Nick Wooster or Derek Blas­berg.

While wait­ing, they snap away at any­thing that moves and is wear­ing colour or print. A few at­ten­dees daw­dle, pre­tend­ing to make phone calls to be sure they ap­pear in frame – ‘ they came, they saw’ now up­dated by those who came to be seen.

Teenage girls in near eu­phoric states stand on one side of a bar­rier, pens and pa­pers clutched close (af­ter all, celebri­ties can’t sign an iphone). “Who are you wait­ing for?” we call out as we’re ush­ered to the door. “Li Chen,” says a girl, breath­lessly – the Chi­nese ac­tor ex­clu­sively in town for this show. A gag­gle of nearby Ital­ian girls also waits to catch a glimpse of Grey’s Anatomy star Gi­a­como Gian­niotti.

Once in­side ev­ery­one’s fun­nelled into an in­ti­mate the­atri­cal space made all the more stately by Zegna’s makeover for its AW16 pre­sen­ta­tion. Dove grey felt cov­ers the walls and foor, with ‘eco fur’ (it’s a thing) cush­ions placed on each seat. Chen takes his, amid a fit-in­duc­ing on­slaught of cam­era flashes, just as the show is about to start.

When the mod­els – fop­pish, floppy hair and carved cheek­bones – be­gin to calmly cir­cle the room, it’s clear mod­ern, im­age-driven-cul­ture was on de­signer Ste­fano Pi­lati’s mind in cre­at­ing this col­lec­tion. In an era when, as is writ­ten in the show’s notes, ‘ ev­ery­one seems to em­bel­lish, dis­tin­guish and ad­ver­tise him­self’, the 50-year-old’s con­cerns are with ex­plor­ing the very prac­tice of state­ment-mak­ing em­bel­lish­ment in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally so­phis­ti­cated way. Stand out if you want, said the clothes, but do so with class in a well-cut gar­ment.

“Since I started to work on menswear, I’ve al­ways pushed the idea of van­ity,” chimes Pi­lati fol­low­ing the show, his last Zegna col­lec­tion – to be re­placed by Alessan­dro Sar­tori as cre­ative di­rec­tor. “If you take care of your style, if you are in­ter­ested in fash­ion, if you are in­ter­ested in clothes – that is a ges­ture of van­ity.”

Still, he cau­tioned against stand­ing out for the wrong rea­sons. “Un­for­tu­nately, to­day, peo­ple dress up to ad­ver­tise they be­long to a so­cial struc­ture. This ap­proach may be called ‘fash­ion’, but it’s defnitely not ‘style’. [In­stead], feel self-conf­dent and have a defned per­son­al­ity strong enough to like fash­ion and use it to own your per­sonal style.”

Such sen­ti­ment was ex­plored through the var­ied and in­tri­cate de­tails, many built into the fab­ric. Against a sub­dued au­tum­nal colour pal­ette (dusty char­coals, win­try blues and deep aubergine) and os­ten­si­bly clas­sic sil­hou­ettes, Pi­lati went to town with wo­ven jacquards, or­na­men­tal mo­tifs and the oc­ca­sional se­quin.

This kind of sub­tlety calls to mind the de­signer’s own per­sona. Ad­mired for his fault­less dress sense, the Yves Saint Lau­rent alum­nus and na­tive Mi­lanese has pre­ferred to stay out of the spot­light, re­sid­ing in Ber­lin. “There’s a lively and ac­tive com­mu­nity of artists, mu­si­cians, and for­ma­tive art de­sign­ers, but no fash­ion. I can en­joy anonymity and free­dom there and con­cen­trate on cre­ation.”

On ar­rival at Zegna in 2012, Pi­lati im­me­di­ately cut through the sat­u­rated men’s mar­ket and his cool, ca­sual ap­proach to cou­ture with pieces such as the now iconic, soft-sil­hou­ette ‘bro­ken suit’ – a jacket and pants combo in dif­fer­ent prints that can eas­ily be mixed and matched – and gen­eral knack for de­con­structed out­er­wear. Tal­ent aside, he had an­other ad­van­tage over cer­tain com­peti­tors – the re­sources of Zegna. The fam­ily-run com­pany is one of few in the world, which fol­lows fash­ion’s story from fi­bre to full looks. Such is the mai­son’s clout that in 2014 it added an Aus­tralian sheep farm to its port­fo­lio.

“We’re in a unique sit­u­a­tion, we’re not sim­ply buy­ers of wool any­more,” says com­pany chair­man, Paolo Zegna, of his brand’s Aus­tralian con­nec­tion. “We started more than 50 years ago with the Zegna wool­grower’s tro­phy, but we al­ways had this dream to com­plete the cir­cle from pro­duc­tion to retail. We were just miss­ing that di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence. So we thought, ‘Why shouldn’t we learn on the ground?’”

The Zegna mill, which plays an es­sen­tial role in this process, is a two-hour drive from Mi­lan, in the hill­side town of Trivero. It’s here that Aus­tralian merino wool, along with lux­u­ri­ous cash­mere from Mon­go­lia and mohair from South Africa, is spun into the sharp suit­ing fab­rics and knitwear seen across this AW16 col­lec­tion.

This mill and its pro­lific out­put, drawn from Zegna’s Aus­tralian sheep farm and fur­ther across the world, will con­tinue as the in­spi­ra­tion for the la­bel’s col­lec­tions. As Pi­lati’s fnal show ends and the out­side cir­cus again fres up, his un­der­stated study of em­bel­lish­ment in this ‘look-at-me’ cul­tural con­text feels all the more per­ti­nent. Stand­ing out is one thing, be­ing stylish is a whole other ball game.

“SINCE I STARTED TO WORK ON MENSWEAR, I’VE AL­WAYS PUSHED THE IDEA OF VAN­ITY. IF YOU’RE IN­TER­ESTED IN FASH­ION AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR STYLE – THAT IS A GES­TURE OF VAN­ITY.”

Wool-blend over­coat, $5535, silk shirt, $1895, wool trousers, $1595, and leather loafers, $1635, all by Ermenegildo Zegna Cou­ture.

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