Interview by Filep Motwary – Season SS22
Zegna’s artistic director Alessandro Sartori talks about sustainability, high quality, Made in Italy and the value of comfort.
FILEP MOTWARY: What was your perspective on fashion before you became involved in it? Because I realize that from the moment you finished your studies you joined a big company and you never left.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI: Everything was very organic. The journey started much earlier because my mum was a seamstress: she had a team of eight people and for a town in Italy this was not a small atelier: it was a good size apartment with two cutting rooms, a little warehouse for fabrics and materials. And then there was a beautiful hall for the fittings, filled with mirrors and a nice car-pet and lovely chairs to see the dresses and all the clothes she was making. I was like five or six, entering her atelier that was just a door in front of our apartment. As an adult, the choice of my profession came naturally. To this day, I have a very tactile and a very manual approach in making shapes, working around volumes, handling the fabric, the toile. Honestly, dressing a woman or a man, for me, is the same thing and this is what I like doing…
FM: Or dressing the human body…
AS: Yes, the human body! Often today we enter into this discussion about sex, about gender. Our world is running much faster than what people and politicians are trying to organize. This democratic perspective has always been my way to accept people for what they are, to enhance their beauty, to underline each with much respect and not to transform them. I have no right to that. Often people ask me, “What would you have done without this job?” I would have done the exact same job but in my little apartment, you know? Dressing people, which is actually the beauty of this work, gives me a good reason to do it. My be-ing is entirely about dressing people.
FM: Your collaboration with Zegna has been long and prosperous. How has your approach changed over this time?
AS: Now I am more concentrated on the bigger picture and on the aesthetic as a global message. Aesthetics is not just about a garment, a detail or a pocket. When I started, my focus was on things like stitching, the cut and so on. Today a great pocket, pants and jacket still matter of course, yet through a larger frame. I try to view things from a different perspective and build a story fully, which is not related to one season only but to the whole idea around the brand. It’s like a film or a book where you deliver chapters, an ongoing story. In every collection, all the pieces are part of the same vision, all of them [are] garments to collect and to cherish, to respect and to blend with old-er things according to one’s personal style. This is how I wear things too. I like the emotion that is connected to clothes and the circumstances [in which] they were worn, the weather, the occasion, the memory.
FM: Do you ever step out of your life and look at it as a spectator?
AS: There are moments when I try to observe myself from the outside. For my work especially, yes. Today what I do is also related to the idea of image-making—starting from the store, the store windows, the store design—simply because you cannot build an aesthetic without thinking of the whole. When I see people I don’t know wearing my stuff, or when I go visit our stores, I always stop in front of our windows and listen to people’s comments on the garments shown or the set design and decoration. I love when I come across strangers that know of my work without being aware that I am the same person they speak of. Or when I listen to people describing shows they liked and Zegna is on their list. So, I really like the feeling of watching without the lens of a relationship, in a neutral way. These comments are very interesting and at times helpful.
Recently we had this 50-year-old customer in the shop buying a suit accompanied by his son, who was around 23, 25 years old. The young man chose the new outdoor collection along with shoes and technical pants. Two different generations in Zegna!
FM: What are the biggest challenges you have come across designing for Zegna all these years?
AS: Working for a small independent company, you do whatever you like and nobody says anything. When you move into the big arena with a brand, everyone notices what you do. But, at the same time, in a big brand, things can happen more easily compared to a small one. Each big brand usually [distributes] around the world with its own logic. If you own only one store you can build the image you like. But if you have partners, you push your image through them.
One of our vital strengths is that we have five wool mills that do our fabrics. So, I can have any sort of material, from women’s jacquard, the fully recy-cled product of Bonotto, to the extremely high level of the Zegna cashmere or Zegna vicuña fabrics. It’s like we have a garden or the grocery behind the restaurant and the people making the bread or growing the ingredients for the salad. You see what I mean? I think only Chanel has a similar situation. Zegna is the only menswear brand with such an extended, intense, deep supply that offers me everything.
FM: Zegna is strongly linked with quality, elegance, savoir-faire. Are these important values for the brand?
AS: What is interesting at Zegna is that we have very few competitors. I mean we have many but the real ones are very few precisely because we are in a very unique place in the market. There are many brands doing quality yet most of them are very classic and conservative. There are several brands producing lifestyle products. But they don’t have our craft and quality. So already the junction between high quality and very interesting life- style and fashion is an interesting place and there are not many brands there. Maybe there are two brands, three brands in the same segment, but not I’m not naming them!
FM: Has the meaning of luxury changed during the pandemic?
AS: Yes, totally! There is an element that has al- ways been considered a commercial one that to- day became a fashion element or a very important design pillar: of course, I am referring to comfort. When I heard the word comfort back in the late 90s, early 00s and even four or five years ago, it was about comfortable garments for people with- out the right fit.
Luckily, today any barriers around dressing have collapsed: people can wear whatever they want— as long as you feel happy and look good! Comfort also means a larger silhouette, dropped shoulders, beautiful materials, nice touch, compact construction to avoid too much lining or too much canvas.
It’s basically a language that requires a high level of stylistic design silhouettes. This has changed the dimension of luxury a lot. Luxury today has to do with personalisation, with one-to-one experience and exclusive situations like a Zoom call, let’s say. The pandemic forced the evolution of luxury and comfort.
FM: How does “Made in Italy” resonate with the present?
AS: I consider “Made in Italy” a brand, as “Made in Switzerland” is a brand for watches or “Made in France” is a brand for many other industries. I think that “Made in Italy” goes hand in hand with design, not only fashion but also furniture, home design. I see it as a brand as it is related to the deepness and the soul of the most interesting Italian values. Italians are great creatives, but also great artisans. So, the creativity and the artisanal factor are very well-connected together.
Luckily today the world is open, you can have an- yone from any country with creativity, but it’s difficult to find what you want. “Made in Italy” was a pillar of the Italian society that was working in small ateliers with excellent artisans, small family businesses that focused on handcrafted work: from blankets, to pillows, to chairs, to fashion, to bags to… you name it! “Made in Italy” is literally the branded value of this country.
I’m always very, very sad when some atelier, when some tailor, when some very crafted little company is closing. Once we lose artisans, you don’t have them back. Luckily today to be an artisan and to make things with your own hands is important again.
FM: At the fashion show of your winter collection for 2019, you unveiled a series of clothes under the slogan USETHEEXISTING which was entirely made from pre-existing sources. Is this an established method for the Zegna collections?
AS: Quality and sustainability have a lot of different layers. It’s important that each one of us does the most where we can. But there are many ways to be sustainable. The most important thing is to talk real and not use words simply as a marketing tool without any reality behind [them].
Some years ago, we evaluated how much waste the fashion industry [generates] and unfortunate- ly it’s huge. And I’m not referring to fast fashion and I’m not talking generally about companies of product of the same level as Zegna, nor their production process.
We decided to enter into this mechanism in order to understand how much our waste is, which is ex- actly the industry’s benchmark. We don’t do more, we don’t do less. We do like everybody else. And we truly were shocked about the global amount of wasted fibres in fabrics and that is when we decided to work very hard on changing that.
We named the project USETHEEXISTING. We collect all broken fibres and yarns and divide them by composition and colour and, with the help of special technology, we restart the process from scratch. There’s so much we can all do, and no- body speaks about it. All you hear is “Oh, overproduction”. Just with complaining, things cannot be changed—we need to act!
FM: What was the starting point for the SS22 collection?
AS: Though this collection we embrace a new path where indoor and outdoor are colliding and where the creation of a new aesthetic doesn’t have a for- mat for the day, night, party or travel. It’s about a single aesthetic, one new silhouette. It was my way to speak a modern language and communicate with the people out there.
The mood board is like packing a suitcase to travel, a journey that blends each wardrobe with this new aesthetic that is relevant to the world as it is now. If you have a jacket, it needs to be wearable from day to night, from a business meeting to a good dinner with a friend. If you are wearing the product you need to be able to mix them and match them and create a new silhouette. Before, you were doing one silhouette maybe with four pieces; today you need to do at least two different silhouettes.
So maybe it’s one pants with two totally different tops, but they are both creating a suit.
So, the full vision is a model wardrobe that fus- es when you need and speaks to the guy that is indoor, outdoor, business, not business, traveling, [for] dinner, a meeting, in a very confident and comfortable way.
Comfort is also very important along with new materials that are travel friendly and compact or technical. New shapes such as the new oversized jacket, some beautiful technical pants, an amazing short coat, very interesting new shirts ….
FM: The collection—the outline of each silhouette, the colour palettes you worked with—was also youthful. How do you infuse youth into what you do?
AS: I think that I never put age into the cluster because I always like to be open, rather than just [aiming for] a specific target of people. My customers are like my ambassadors. I like dressing everybody, just with the right mindset and right aesthetic. For me, it’s important that I keep evolving and [don’t] stay stable. I keep manipulating the silhouette and the fabric to be fresher and fresher.
There is a constant dialogue with the silhouette, with my designer’s team, with customers. It’s an evolution, a constant evolution.
Courtesy of Dapper Dan magazine Volume 25, published in February 2022 ©
Portrait by Marco Falcetta for WWD
Alessandro Sartori is an Italian fashion designer, and the artistic director of Italian brand Zegna. Previously, he was creative director of Z Zegna and artistic director of Berluti.