For a brand synonymous with Italian luxury for 112 years, Zegna hasn’t allowed itself to rest on its laurels. Innovation was inescapable at its recent Winter 2022 display in a Covid-19-restricted fashion week streamed live from Milan. For today’s reshaped world, blurring categories and rules was the name of the game, from merging the outdoors and indoors to eschewing what a suit should mean (hint, it’s now more relaxed). The show itself blurred physical boundaries, set against a film shot at Oasi Zegna nature park in Piedmont, Northern Italy, cutting across to Milan.

For Alessandro Sartori, artistic director of Italian fashion brand Zegna, matching the needs of the moment has been key, and he’s chosen to do that by erasing staid categories. "Post pandemic, everything is deconstructed, more fluid, more natural, more easy but stylish," he says.

We asked him about freedom in fashion, sustainability in fashion and celebrities in fashion. Excerpts from the interview:

What’s at the core of the Zegna Winter 22 collection?

The new collection is the first of a new brand. With the rebranding process we started a long journey that went from three collections to one: Couture, Ermenegildo Zegna, Z Zegna - and now we have just Zegna. From the tailoring to the outdoor capsule, it was all for the first time presented with the new brand and new logo.

The collection starts with a good combination of the indoor and outdoor. Then a monochrome look – I’m big in favour of these monochromatic looks. There’re new suits, a combination of top and bottom that are not coming from classic suits. Chore coat and matching pants. Overshirt and matching pants and so on. A lot of natural fibres, recycled fabrics and interesting play with proportions, the big and small creating good shapes. This idea of comfort and fluidity are at the base of our style.

Over the course of the pandemic, we saw fashion become more forgiving. What has the post-Covid changing lifestyle meant for menswear?

Covid-19 actually accelerated a process that was already existing. The difference is just the speed. So rather than a slow evolution, it all happened in two years. I’m particularly happy about this because it’s a change that’s very in line with the times, with a need to be freer, comfortable, and having beautiful yet functional and stylish wardrobes and garments. Everything is deconstructed, more fluid, more natural, more easy but stylish. We at Zegna moved fast to incorporate this modern approach into menswear.

Walk us through your usual process for creating a collection – what serves as inspirations for you?

I work with my team, brainstorming before the designing process. I find my creative sources in studying and observing things around myself, in photography, shooting, books… I like to write notes on each picture that I like. So I do some pre work, then some second work with my team, and then start designing.

As creative director in the new world, what are the challenges you face while designing today?

We try to be as responsible as we can. We try to think in multilayers, not only with design but function, fluidity, diversity, quality. Longevity of the garment is important. Waste is another aspect - we don’t want to waste anything. We are approaching our work with more responsibility.

Zegna has had various celebrities star in its campaigns, from Jamie Dornan to Adrien Brody and Robert De Niro. What has brought about the celebrity focus? How do they make a difference to the brand?

I like to work with celebs when they are authentic to the brand. My approach to them is that there are many celebrities you can pick if they are the right match. If you have just the name but the values are different, they are useless. Having the same values helps you avoid misleading messages.

Celebrities such as Javier Bardem and Mahershala have certainly made a difference to the brand by spreading the message to a different broader community. Having De Niro, Mahershala, Javier etc, these characters are so bold and strong that you don’t need to speak; they speak for you. One image and one video with them says everything as they have such a strong identity that they convey the message easily.

Zegna has focused on sustainability long before most other fashion brands- from the 1930s- with the extensive reforestation project of Oasi Zegna. In what ways does the brand plan to take this forward for the younger generation of customers?

Sustainability is multilayered. We like very much to say we have a sustainable mindset. We use fully sustainable fabric coming from regenerated sources used in existing processes. Wool coming from our wool farm in Australia that is a totally traceable chain; cashmere coming from a traceable chain in Mongolia.

We are using natural colourant in some part of the collection without usage of any chemical. We are using less water in all the washes we do for denim, so that’s another layer of sustainability. So today it is not about one level, it’s about many layers that have to be combined together. As well as less waste, to reuse waste, to make durable garments are all important actions with sustainable mindset.

What are the top five biggest trends you identify in menswear today?

I’d say comfort, function that goes with design and creativity, fluid pieces, monochrome looks and creative shoes.

What styles do you notice the Middle Eastern man most opt for?

The Middle Eastern man goes for lighter fabrics, lightweight, freer construction, less complicated styling, simplicity – and a lot of personalisation. They love a customised approach to style and styling.

Is it true you live in the clothes you design for a few days so you know if the clothes will feel good for the customer?

I try everything I design, sometimes for a few hours in the studio, sometimes I live in them for a couple of days. And then I go back to my design team with what needs to be changed.

How has Zegna tried to break away from the fashion stereotypes for men?

We’ve been following our own path and we don’t try to follow trends, or formats, we often create our own. Trying to lead with our own philosophy – be that good or bad, but if you have your own point of view you’re more recognisable. Just like we were the first to announce a format that is both digital and physical – phygital, [a hybrid show format merging live shows and film].

We showcase a diversity in casting and we started this a long time ago. Plus we show men of different ages. The new tailoring with special models for jackets and pants are now becoming a sort of classic in the menswear industry. We have our own tone of voice and people are noticing it.

Any plan to branch out from menswear?

Not at all, we like menswear; we like that women are borrowing garments from men, but we stay in menswear.

With Valentine’s Day here, what are your recommendations to our readers on fashion choices for the evening?

Don’t copy anyone, but choose a beautiful, chic, elegant outfit that makes themselves proud, and their partner proud too. Personally I would choose jacquard fabric, and a deep dark colour, like aubergine or deep blue or deep grey – some colour, definitely.

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