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Ermenegildo Zegna reimagines the suit for its Summer 2019 Couture collection, as it looks back on 50 years of ready-to-wear creations
Eduan R. Maggo
The suit is dead. Long live the suit!
Apologies if that sounds a tad dramatic, but there are moments that call for a bit of theatricality. And Ermenegildo Zegna is nothing if not dramatic in 2018.
Firstly, there’s the not-insignificant matter of the brand celebrating half a century of ready-to-wear creations. And then there’s artistic director Alessandro Sartori’s Spring 2019 Couture collection, presented at Milan Fashion Week.
While these two concepts function independently, it’s also worth examining their relation to each other. If we were to overthink it, it would be fair to say the first probably wouldn’t have been symbolic without the second; and the second wouldn’t have happened without the first. But let’s start with Sartori’s latest offering.
Featuring bold checks, soft pastels and intricate prints, it’s a confident line. Bright yellow and blue accents here and there meet plum tones that culminate in a hued striped blazer over trousers and a shirt in two different plaids. One standout features a play with shades of grey that appears both hard and soft simultaneously.
Structured items sit comfortably alongside more flowy pieces, and even on the more tailored garments the craftsmanship is delicate. There’s a focus on oversized fit — a deliberate measure given that Sartori created these outfits for the models after they’d been cast, meeting the requirements for the Couture label.
Jeans are reinterpreted and feature the very en vogue throwback elasticated ankles.
What first appears to be a smattering of athleisure items (notably track pants that transform into shorts through zippers) and accoutrements (predominantly visors and the see-now-buy-now Cesare sneaker with its “XXX” leather side detail) is a much bigger trend upon reflection. Because what would have been formal trousers read as something a lot more casual now. Yes, it’s still smart, but it’s decidedly more relaxed than the formal trousers that came before. Many of the ankles are cinched, the waists a little looser.
Overwhelmingly, there’s a weightlessness to this collection, aided in no small way by the performance fabrics that find their way into sartorial creations they weren’t originally intended for. And yet it works. You see, this mix of street and sport with traditional tailoring signals the end of the suit as we know it and heralds what Sartori calls the “bomber suit”.
His skilful bringing together of the direction fashion is going in with the world of Zegna is nothing short of masterful.
The drama on the catwalk unfolds against the concrete arches of the monumental structure that serves as its backdrop. By no coincidence the Palazzo Mondadori — designed by the Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, a key figure in modern architecture — was commissioned in 1968, the same year Zegna produced its first ready-to-wear suits.
50 years of RTW
Some 50 years on, Zegna is the world’s biggest sartorial fashion company in monetary terms. The brand revisits its origin and allows us a glimpse into how it all started with an exhibition dedicated to its first decade in the RTW business. Called Uomini All’Italiana 1968, the exhibition runs until October at the historic Casa Zegna in Trivero, where Ermenegildo Zegna opened the Zegna wool mill in 1910.
It traces how the company transitioned “from high-quality textile production to the artisan commercialisation of sartorial expertise and onto the affirmation of a luxury lifestyle brand”, according to a statement.
Incorporating historic photos as well as vintage materials, outfits and period pieces from the brand’s archives, the exhibition also focuses on Top, an internal instrument that became a veritable lifestyle publication resembling what we think of as men’s magazines today.
“Zegna entered the ready-to-wear clothing industry at a time when the Fordist model of the modern clothing factory was at its maximum development and already heading for crisis,” Mario Lupano, professor at IUAV University of Venice, who curated the essay dedicated to the exhibition, says in a release. “Zegna actually became an interpreter of the times, in a climate in which post-Fordist needs were emerging.
“Indefinite growth in production was about to prove unsustainable: the new need was to create more sophisticated products — well reflected by the issues of fashion entering the masculine realm — and consumers were demanding even more diversified goods.”
One facet was a personalised sizing concept, which could blend the modern product with a measure of traditional tailoring. “Zegna’s efforts were therefore guided by the urgency of refining that sense of ‘dressing well’, liaising mass-production and sartorial world, pursuing the paradox of ‘industrial tailor made’,” Lupano explains.
And 50 years later this spirit is thriving under Sartori’s guidance. Even if we had to give up the suit as the Zegna pioneers knew it.
The exhibition Uomini All’Italiana 1968 — Zegna Ready-to-Wear: From the Tailor to Industry is open every Sunday until October 28, 2018 at Casa Zegna in Trivero
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