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