Last month at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, jazz fusion artist Masego appeared on stage wearing a green chore jacket and matching trousers. The ensemble was by Zegna, and perfectly symbolised where this century-old Italian house is on its journey to dress the times we live in and the future.
It wasn’t just that here was a tailoring-based “suit” that, while still composed of jacket and trousers, had little in common with the type of business attire that made Zegna a byword for the choice of slick professionals in the 20th century, but that the outfit was being sported by a man whose music mixes genres. For Zegna, these past few years have been all about blending genres to create something new – to evolve a new style, suited to a new way of living.
For spring/summer 2022, you could not imagine a better example of this than the chore jacket, as championed by the Jamaican-American musician. With its roots in 19th-century France, the “chore”, as its name suggests, was worn for practical, hands-on, manual work. A hundred years later, reinterpreted by this luxury Italian house, the functional garment is the perfect hybrid design – casual and relaxed, and yet also smart enough to mark the wearer as someone who still adheres to the notion of day-to-day clothing coming from a wardrobe, rather than a sports locker.
This is important, because with the rise and rise of sportswear – a trend turbocharged by the pandemic – there is an idea circulating that men will now seek to live in gym-ready clothing. This is the sort of pendulum-swing clairvoyance you get in fashion from time to time; but experience has shown that these extreme predictions are usually just that – extreme.
More realistic is the prospect that a new balance between leisure and work, essentially a new sort of hybrid lifestyle, will lead to a desire for a new sort of hybrid wardrobe – neither formal nor casual, but bridging the two. And this is precisely where Zegna is planting its flag.
Driving the change is the house’s artistic director, Alessandro Sartori, a 55-year-old from Trivero in Biella, Italy, which also happens to be the birthplace of Zegna. Sartori is a thoughtful, articulate man, who in his personal tastes seems to be all about interesting mash-ups. His favourite car is an American classic – a midnight-blue 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback – that he bought from a collector in Sweden. His personal style is defined by a penchant for understated, relaxed elegance – ‘I always wear black, but sometimes I go crazy and wear navy,’ he quips. His go-to outfit for most of the year features his bespoke-made oversized Zegna black cashmere coat (‘I like to play with proportions’), worn with tailored trousers, a cashmere knit and no jacket. His favourite footwear is neither bench-made leather lace-up, or trainer, but the house’s super-successful Triple Stitch model, a perfect blend of sneaker and structured shoe. We’re talking an elegantly eclectic individual.
A new sort of hybrid lifestyle will lead to a desire for a new sort of hybrid wardrobe
Furthermore, Sartori clearly sees clothing as reflective of the wider culture. A couple of years ago, he began a conversation about the nature of modern masculinity with the campaign “What Makes a Man”, encouraging men to open up and embrace the idea that there are no rules. The notion that there is power and strength in being able to own love, kindness, empathy and vulnerability became a manifesto for the brand, challenging male stereotypes. Now, starting with the spring/summer 2022 collection, that manifesto has evolved into the “232” campaign, which introduces talented visionaries connected by a shared set of principles and a progressive vision for the future, as a way of expressing Zegna’s values. The name – 232 – comes from a road that the founder, Ermenegildo Zegna, built in the 1930s.
These campaigns are bold, but this is what you need to do if you are to shift deeply ingrained perceptions. And where Zegna is concerned, these relate to its long and successful history at the centre of the Italian fashion and textile business. Founded in 1910, the brand established itself by making cloth, before, in the ’60s, under the management of the second generation of the family, developing suiting for men. Now, the third generation of Zegnas has empowered Sartori to rethink menswear for the 21st century.
If this sounds like a big idea, we should remember that Zegna does big ideas. Sartori explains how, a century ago, Ermenegildo was concerned with so much more than just commerce. ‘The vision of the founder was to have the most beautiful menswear brand helping the local community and supporting the environment. He built schools, a swimming pool, apartments and gardens for the workers; he built a fantastic nature reserve, and planted half a million trees in the first 10 years – and then he planted one tree every time a baby was born to his workforce.’ Sustainability, he says, is ingrained in the firm, and today it still maintains the Oasi Zegna – the 100 sq km natural area around the site of its original mill in the Biella Alps, and home of the 232 road – and pursues a wide range of environmentally-friendly initiatives.
‘Ultimately the [world’s] new menswear is about comfort,’ explains Sartori. ‘This was never before at centre stage unless we were travelling. We were more devoted to classicism, or glamour, or uniform: for the suit, shirt and tie is a uniform. But now we want to be comfortable. We want to be freer; we want to express ourselves through our own attitude.’ This is where ‘luxury leisurewear’ comes in, he says: ‘Luxury leisurewear is the way to represent yourself in a chic way, but with a leisure spirit. It is tailoring fabrics in sportswear garments; sportswear garments with tailoring rules. The accepted idea is that you can be elegant in classic menswear or relaxed in sportswear. But there is huge territory in the middle.’ Enter Zegna S/S 2022, with its ‘knitted polo shirts with handmade details, jersey blazers and fabrics with a technical attitude.’
And, significantly, the new suit. This features a jacket and trousers combination, but with new styles. A bomber with fitted trousers. Or a chore jacket with pleated trousers. ‘It’s beautiful because it’s all made in the same workshops where we do our tailoring,’ says Sartori. ‘The quality is of a couture jacket – made partly with handmade construction, using linen with a technical membrane. We are changing the paradigm.’