A Consequence of Fantasy Is Often Beautiful Footprints | A Conversation with Ermenegildo Zegna's Alessandro Sartori
REMEMBER THAT EPIC SCENE? HE’S THREADING THROUGH THE FOREST, HIS SILHOUETTE PORTENDING SHOULDERS LIKE THAT OF A COOL BEAST, HIS PIERCING EYES, HIS LOPING GAIT, A CONSUMMATE, UNCEASING EXHALE OF SNOW FROM THE SKIES DRUMMING DOWN AROUND HIS PURPOSE AS HE CRUNCHES OVER THAT WHICH FELL ONLY MOMENTS BEFORE?
I can’t exactly place it either, but that’s irrelevant. For here at the Ermenegildo Zegna Couture FW18 show—45 exacting looks presented on a wintry night inside the eerily brutalist Bocconi University in Milan, where Swiss installation artist Thomas Flechtner has made the mise- en-scène more wintry still (a room temp blizzard, frankly)—the stylish, cinematic swagger reads of familiar celluloid. The moment in question? That turning point preceding a climactic snap in a Criterion Collection-esque, hell-bent hero effort, the finality of which results in lust, violence, grief.
The culmination of this particularly filmic drama for Zegna’s Artistic Director, Alessandro Sartori, is not of critical importance. His Zegna man will accomplish his will. Of importance is the process of getting to that stage of execution, of striking a carefully considered balance between organic intuition and cultured ingenuity. Of owning it, start to finish.
Joining Sartori inside Zegna’s palatially sleek office block on Milan’s Via Savona, we explore the nuanced origins of this particular collection, his second as lead of the house. “The brief on the season,” says Sartori, who previously headed design at Berluti, and previous to that Zegna’s diffusion line, Z Zegna, “was to start this conversation between organic and modern. Between crafted and technical, or technological. The collection has a purpose to tell a story that is not only related to the aesthetic, but is related to the full environment where the collection is embodied.”
Regarding one environment this particular collection will embody, I share with Sartori the theme of the magazine edition that will house his fashion feature and interview: “New Fantasy.”
This theme acknowledges that the conventions of fantasy as we’ve known them have been eroded in part by an awakened sense of self; that fantasy is much more today about defining an environment than the pursuit of an environment which, in turn, defines you. Sartori agrees his collection expresses similar sentiments. “We wanted a world created by a mix of several things that is a new aesthetic,” he shares. “Today is no longer about having a tailored look, and adding a sportswear detail. Or having a sportswear look and adding a jacket. Today is not about that. Today is a new approach, which is ‘I dress in my own way, my own style.’ Much more individualistic.”
I ask about the influence of Trivero on the collection, home to the revered Zegna woolen mills, company HQ, and the Zegna family nature preserve, present in many instances quite literally. A nearby mountainside spills atop a handful of pieces; a topcoat features a bird’s footprints in fresh snow—“a woven fantasy” as Sartori calls it, anchored in the house’s modern fabric techniques. The marquee of these techniques is Oasi cashmere, cultivated on a 100 sq. km nature preserve in the mountains of Trivero and treated with all-natural dyes from wood, herbs, and natural pigments (browns and grays, for instance, come from tea, burnt hues from henna, blues and grays from Indian woods).
“I like to be grounded in the aesthetic,” Sartori suggests of the natural environment’s inclusion in the pieces’ construction, “but then to tell the story, for instance, of the Oasi cashmere—a new generation of chemical-free fabrics and colorants. And to tell how this new world could be good for the snow, or the asphalt, or going to see an exhibit—the full idea being very graphic, very precise. Very bold a few times with a neutral, solid base everywhere else.”
As we’re circumnavigating the racks with our cups of tea, Sartori describes how his world, while calculatedly mixed with elements of pragmatism and fantasy, is still not out of touch with reality. Some 16 looks will be available in store, and another 6-10 will be replicable or interchangeable via different combinations of make, an unusually high ratio considering the vast amount of fashion that spills onto the runway for the purposes of showing (or wowing), not storytelling all the way through to retail. “I think it’s important,” Sartori explains, “to show what you sell. In the end, 22-24 looks will be available, which I feel is fair.”
I ask Sartori about how this thoughtful and very modern approach to production and design should be communicated to the world. “It’s important to not do it solely for marketing purposes,” he concedes. “We hate that. But we’re not a company that is pushing, saying, ‘Oh, we’re doing this.’ The Zegna family—the family values are real. But if it’s coming naturally from a communication, from sales, or even production, with creativity—why not?”
Sartori adds that this personable approach, in a fashion environment lost at sea with regards to remedying the “see it buy it” culture of contemporary garment consumption, plays out in a highly evolved customer service scheme he actualized through his historically innovative production team. “Eleven looks from the show, for instance, are made to measure. A customer today can enter ten Zegna boutiques worldwide and order things from the show. We deliver in six weeks. No one does that.”
Back to our hero. The snow plodding. The temperament. One of ten worldwide boutiques lay out before him, glowing. Sartori’s runway model is meticulously sought, but lucid in feel, self-defined. “Of course I use young boys,” he remarks while thumbing through the racks to demonstrate his favorite looks, “but we all change and our bodies change, so the personality is a measure of who best suits the clothes. We did five castings.
One each in LA, New York, London, Paris, and Milano. I tell them to wear a jacket, and I like to see them from different angles. I like to get behind to observe the reception on other people’s faces, and I look at their personal style and what they choose. Today, there is a lot more to consider than just being beautiful. And you have to have a strong energy; you have to be a character. There are a lot of beautiful looking models, but once they walk they aren’t expressing what I like. On the other side, you have people you won’t expect, and they put the clothes on and wow, they fly.”
Freshly fallen snow, tea-dyed cashmere, a near instantaneous tailoring model for the global gent, beautiful boys rucking beatnik paperbacks and juicy sets of headphones... who can fly? It seems Sartori’s got a handle on the ingredients for a favorable new fantasy, organic in make, dominant en scène, technical in orbit.
Written by Matthew Bedard
Photographer: Owen Reynolds at Coffin Inc.
Stylist: Davey Sutton.
Models: Trent Lafond at IMG Models and Oscar B. at Premier Model Management.
Hair: Paula McCash using Babyliss Pro and Bumble and Bumble
Makeup: Amy Conley using Dermalogica at Stella Creative Artists.
Photo Assistant: Jade Danielle Smith.
Stylist Assistant: Niall Underwood.
Location: Jump Studio.