At Ermenegildo Zegna, the worlds of accessory and clothing are about to merge
Speaking with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and his off-screen persona, Charlie Cox
IN THE THREE YEARS that Stefano Pilati was creative director at Ermenegildo Zegna, his work had been about restructuring the brand’s various lines and integrating them into a consistent design language. This he has successfully done. He unified the brand’s identity in ways big and small, and indeed, into a language that flows from the Ermenegildo Zegna Couture runway collection. At Zegna, Pilati also had the opportunity to experiment with new materials and techniques, and this season, the brand has managed to combine the two most critical materials in the luxury fashion industry ‒ fabric and leather. Zegna’s foremost brilliance is in its fabrics. The Lanificio Zegna is after all, how the brand started and it remains key to the brand’s success. The company thus took things a step further, working leather in the same method as fabric to create a woven leather fabric that it named Pelle Tessuta (the name literally translates to “woven leather”). Leather goods are essential to most brands’ commercial successes ‒ the handful of rare exceptions such as Lanvin or Vetements stand apart from nearly all other major luxury labels. Yet leather has its own disadvantages. For one, working with leather can be challenging. Secondly, leather’s strength and durability is derived from its weight, thickness and other physical attributes that are usually lost when leather is worked on its own. Saffiano leather is generally considered to be the most durable of leathers while nappa is the most pliable. What Zegna did with Pelle Tessuta was to treat nappa leather like yarn. Pilati cut leather into fine strips, ran them on a traditional loom, forming warp and weft to offer a durable and flexible material. That meant the fine strips could be worked even thinner and finer than ever seen before. In fact, the idea of working leather in this manner is due to the very nature of the material. Leather is made up of very fine hairline fibres, so fine that human hair would look thick next to them. These are twisted into coarser fibres the same way that threads of wool are twisted into thicker threads. The fibres are then woven and shaped to form multiple layers, which creates leather’s dermal thickness on animals. But within this intricate weaving patterns are air channels and passages that allow the skin to sweat and breathe normally. That’s why leather craftsmen often say that leather is a living material that must be maintained, cleaned and moisturised. Most of us are familiar with the Intrecciato leather of Bottega Veneta. That is done in its own unique method with alternating strips of leather. It’s different from loom weaving, where a transverse weft passes through parallel warps threads using a shuttle. But more can be used in complex weaving methods ‒ something Zegna is certainly familiar with ‒ that can add new styles to future versions of Pelle Tessuta. And by dyeing leather threads in different colours, this offers a new way of picturing woven leather. Imagine a herringbone texture, but in leather instead of wool and on a leather bag, or as a jacket, as light as that of a wool suit. The possibilities are endless. And they are just beginning.
THIS SPREAD CLOCKWISE Ermenegildo Zegna’s mill produces some of the finest cloths in the world; Stefano Pilati, former creative director of the Zegna Group; using a traditonal loom to weave leather into Pelle Tessuto; Pilati backstage at the SS16 runway show; accessories for Ermenegildo Zegna Couture
Leather is made up of very fine hairline fibres, so fine that human hair would actually look thick next to them