Alessandro Sartori, Zegna

[dropcap size=small]“T[/dropcap]here is an old saying that the new generation doesn’t want to wear what the old generation wore,” muses Gildo Zegna, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna.

As head of the luxury menswear label, he’s more than aware of the need to cater to the changing demographics and needs of his customers. Which is why he feels that the brand is headed in the right direction under the helm of its artistic director, Alessandro Sartori.

“I feel that what Alessandro has created can cater to both generations,” adds Mr Zegna.

Speaking in an exclusive joint interview, there is an unmistakable camaraderie between Sartori and Mr Zegna. The latter is clearly proud of Sartori’s ingenuity and love for the craft, while Sartori is highly respectful of Mr Zegna’s vision for the brand.

“We have fun. We work very tightly together,” says Sartori, who was previously creative director of Z Zegna from 2003 to 2011. After he left and during his five-year tenure at Berluti, he still maintained a close relationship with the brand. In fact, prior to his departure at Berluti, he was already in talks with Mr Zegna about a possible comeback.

A new direction

“The brand was doing fine but I think it was getting too classic,” Mr Zegna explained. “It is important to give it a [face]lift, so as to move forward. We mended the brand’s strategy with Alessandro.”

Sartori returned to Zegna in 2016 and was given a newly created position as Artistic Director overseeing all Zegna brands (that includes Z Zegna, Ermenegildo Zegna and Ermenegildo Zegna Couture XXX). Such wide authority entrusted to one person, is proof of Mr Zegna’s trust in Sartori’s creative enterprise.

(RELATED: Returning director Alessandro Sartori outlines his new vision for Ermenegildo Zegna)

With over 500 boutiques worldwide, Ermenegildo Zegna is the largest luxury menswear brand but Mr Zegna has no time to rest on his laurels. He stresses the importance of being “curious” – a trait passed on from his grandfather to his father before him. He sees his role as protecting their legacy by always thinking ahead and never being caught in the comfort zone because that, he stresses, is risky for any business.

The challenge now lies is how, in this day and age, the suit needs to evolve. While it forms Zegna’s very DNA, the classic suit doesn’t sit as well with the modern male as it might have a decade ago. Both Mr Zegna and Sartori agree unanimously that the brand’s relevance today lies in being  inclusive rather than exclusive. “Yesterday, when we met our customers, one was a 25-year-old-guy we had to dress for his wedding. And then there was a 50-year-old man who has been our customer for 25 years. So this is what I mean about combining generations and being an inclusive brand,” adds Mr Zegna.

Suits for every occasion

Anchoring the idea that luxury in this millennium is “multi-generational” is Mr Zegna’s vision to make menswear that is relevant whether you’re in your 20s, 40s or 60s. Executing this vision is Sartori and his keen sartorial eye – first by reinventing tailoring with new shapes in suiting and superior fabrications. In Zegna’s books, this new realm of menswear is not defined by familiarity.

Masculine work-wear trousers were replaced with a more laid back vibe — tailored track pants made out of lightweight nylons (a voile weighing 90 gm to be specific). And, he showed varying ways you could style these pants — with a leather sweatshirt and a cap for the youths or a slim-fit blazer for the young at heart. Sartori’s version of a three-piece suit bucked the trends with a tailored jacket paired with a bomber and track pants.

For those unfamiliar with the house’s triple X logo (Zegna’s equivalent to the double Cs), Sartori emphasises its importance explicitly this season, debossed on leather sweatshirts and jackets as well as leather carryalls. As a house defined by its tailoring codes, the criss-cross bears a symbolic reference: “The criss-cross stitch is the best solution for a tailor to hold pieces of fabric and layers together because it’s indestructible. It has always been part of the couture logo but since 2016 we have decided to use it on the outside,” Sartori explains.

In the shoe department, the brand leveraged on its strikingly smart leather Cesare sneakers unveiled last year (with two new updated styles this season). Sartori, who is wearing a pair during the interview, considers their sneakers akin to couture, as it requires the same amount of time needed to create an Oxford shoe.

All in the details

Anyone familiar with Sartori’s work as a designer knows what a tailoring fiend he is. He was already ahead of the game during his Z Zegna tenure, introducing slimmer suits and highlighting elements of sportswear – garnering praise and rave reviews from the fashion cognoscenti. So when he assumed his newest and biggest role yet at Zegna three years ago, Sartori knew that he had to live up to his name as one of menswear’s biggest game changers.

One of his most forward-thinking designs was the one-and-a-half-breasted jacket cut he introduced in the fall collection last year. He emphasised how a double-breasted jacket was once the hallmark of a well-dressed man. But these days, a double-breasted jacket is not a top-of-the-mind purchase. While Sartori admired the cut of a double-breasted jacket, he also wanted to cater to the current consumer’s preference for casual suiting. Hence, the one-and-a-half-breasted jacket which fits as smartly as a classic double-breasted when fastened, but retains its elegant shape when undone.

His designs may be superlative, but it is Sartori’s styling aesthetic that is moving the brand forward. His idea of “casual couture” — dissecting uniforms, rules and traditional menswear ensembles — form the new lexicon for men’s apparel.

New materials

Technical innovation is a Zegna must-have and Sartori has been invested in this category from day one. He talks about the importance of Techmerino and how it has evolved. Techmerino is completely natural and the key feature of the special in-house fabric is the nylon aspect. “We started with a few garments,” he explains. “And now we have built a full wardrobe of Techmerino which is washable. Once it’s dry you can wear it without ironing. It is the only product of its kind in the world,” says Sartori proudly.

(RELATED: Is a $590 Ermenegildo Zegna cotton T-shirt truly superior to a $14.90 Uniqlo one?)

Another technical first for the house is Leggerissimo — an ultralight fabric for a suit weighing 160 gm per meter (compared to 190 gm when it was first launched). “The weight of an entire suit does not even hit 1kg,” he adds.

Sartori is keen to change the rules of the game, proving that menswear can be as interesting and as multifaceted as womenswear. He also reiterates how the image of tailoring has always been associated with a very classic approach, but the future of tailoring would be more focused on the way a suit is styled and the innovation behind these garments – which is clearly the direction Zegna is taking.

Zegna’s success lies in its ability to keep their DNA intact. Says Mr Zegna, “Do not lose your DNA. It has to be consistent with your values and your story. We truly are quite ahead and wish to continue on that path.”

(RELATED: How Ermenegildo Zegna is sharpening its sport-inflected, streetwise aesthetic)

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: Alessandro Sartori, Luca de Santis