SuitsZegna's Top Man Confirms It: The Suit Isn't Going Anywhere (But It Is Evolving)
The Italian label sets a new course with a new designer, a new retail partner in Mr Porter, and a new outlook on buy-now, wear-now.
What does Gildo Zegna know about suits? Everything, actually. Zegna—yes, of that Zegna—currently serves as chief executive officer of the Italian brand founded by his grandfather in 1910. It’s a role that demands keeping the heritage of the luxury menswear mini empire in check while steering it forward in the digitally focused, buy-now climate in which fashion world exists. It can be a difficult balancing act, especially when you’re trying to convince guys to part with more than two grand for an impossibly lightweight wool and silk blazer that they can’t touch IRL.
Enter Mr Porter. If there’s one online retailer that’s turned digital shopping into a luxury experience (or as close to one as you can get), it’s the five-year-old site. Mr P’s ability to seamlessly fold storytelling into selling has made it the destination for guys with deep pockets to empty them on really, really nice things (like said Zegna blazers) without the usual batch of post-arrival buyer’s remorse. That’s why Zegna the man has teamed Zegna the brand up with the site—the only digital-only operation they’ve sold to—to bring the label’s wares to a new global audience. It’s just one initiative that lays the groundwork for Zegna’s latest incarnation, one that’s being helmed by recently-departed Berluti designer Alessandro Sartori.
Before a CORE: Club CEO Series talk with Mr Porter managing director Toby Bateman, we sat down with the well-respected Zegna before a to pick his brain on all things tailoring, including the state of the suit in 2016, what it means to move menswear in the digital space, and what Sartori might have in store (literally) for the brand next year.
GQ: It seems as though people are constantly calling for the death of the suit, but we’d argue the suit feels more vital than ever. From your side of the aisle, what do you think about the suit’s relevance today?
Gildo Zegna: “The suit is back.” It’s not that the suit is back. What we are selling right now is either more sports jackets or casual jackets. He wants to wear the jacket in a more casual way, as a piece of sportswear. So I think today the jacket has become a part of luxury sportswear, like an accessory. In the old days, you used to have a sweater and today you want to wear a jacket and have it feel like a sweater. I wear a double-breasted jacket but it feels like a cardigan.
But the suit is still a hallmark of the Zegna brand. How has that business shifted as customers opt for more jackets?
I think we’re getting more formal with the suit. A younger customer wears the suit with no tie, in a more casual way, in a more fashion direction. Guys my age are still wearing the suit, still in a more dressy way. In that way, it has to be made to measure, using the best textiles.
What’s the biggest difference with regards to tailoring between today and say, ten years ago?
Ten years ago, the jacket used to be worn almost like a suit. It used to be less bold and more constructed. Starting from the fabric to the construction, the jacket has changed dramatically. That’s why you need different construction, different patterns, some type of color for the guy today.
Has this concept of the jacket-as-accessory changed how or what other items you offer customers?
I think it’s up to the brand to make it look different. The styling and the visuals can make it different—and the customer grabs to that. Today, you have to experiment and if you do experiments with new things, the customer reacts in a positive way. The innovation in construction, or, I would say the innovation in textile and fabrication is continuous. So every season we come out with something new, like the Trofeo denim project
What about Mr Porter made it the right fit for Zegna’s online retail presence?
I compare it to a menswear specialty store. I think they have lots of stories to tell and I think they feature the best of the brands. It’s really a different ways to prose the brand to a wider number of customers.
What are challenges for a luxury brand like yours to carve out an identity in a now-crowded digital space?
The digital world makes us move quicker. I think that you cannot go creating collections by season any longer. There are no more seasons. In Italy, in a matter of a week, we had a twenty-degree difference in temperature—from hot summer to almost cold winter. When you see this, can you imagine what it means for the stock of a shop? So we have to forget about the seasons in terms of collection and we have to create collections by project.
Does that mean you’re abandoning the traditional runway show calendar?
Not at all. But that’s not enough any longer. Each of us has to create this own type of buy-now, wear-now model and communicate that in a comprehensive way so that the customer understands. There has to be creativity as well as a novelty to it.
Speaking of new ventures, can you share anything about Alessandro Sartori’s vision for the house?
If there is one creative person who is very proud of our DNA, it is him. The brand will become more dynamic. I think it will become more contemporary, but at the same time respecting the past. I think that he’s so creative that he can bring change by styling or highlighting items that have been with us for a while that have not been highlighted enough. He’s starting with textiles to make the line different, so it’s not only new style, but innovation. He’s also bringing a new know-how to our leather and accessories lines.
How would you say this differs from Stefano Pilati’s vision, which was much more artisanal than what had come before. Couture was even in the name…
I don’t like to compare the two. Stefano served one period and Alessandro serves the future. We will announce a couple of new projects, one in London in November and one in Milan in February which are exciting and should be in the artisanal direction that Zegna is all about. We are limited edition, we are exclusive.