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Is the classic men's suit dead? Zegna has an answer

The Italian luxury brand's creative director Alessandro Sartori talks about the pandemic’s effect on fashion—and why the classic suit is almost dead

In August, the century-old Italian luxury house Zegna presented a collection that redefined the traditional menswear code: effortless, functional, distinctive, fluid.
In August, the century-old Italian luxury house Zegna presented a collection that redefined the traditional menswear code: effortless, functional, distinctive, fluid. (Courtesy Zegna)

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Has the classic men’s suit become an endangered species? If you ask Alessandro Sartori, the creative designer of Zegna (Ermenegildo Zegna until recently), it has. “You don’t see them too often, do you?”he asks during a Zoom call, dressed in all- black, with matching sunglasses.

The answer is reflective of what we have been seeing on runways in the pandemic era. Fashion houses are reviving the formal suit. The fitted coats, the figure-hugging shirts and bow-ties are gone. In August, the century-old Italian luxury house itself presented a collection that redefined the traditional menswear code: effortless, functional, distinctive, fluid.

Also read: Fashion doesn’t want to play safe

Alessandro Sartori, the creative designer of Zegna.
Alessandro Sartori, the creative designer of Zegna. (Courtesy Zegna)

“I want to create a bridge between the essence of tailoring to the demands of the modern world,” says Sartori, who became Zegna’s design head eight years ago.

The move to a more modern way of creating garments is also part of Zegna’s rebranding. A few weeks after becoming the first Italian fashion brand to list on the New York Stock Exchange in December, it came out with a new logo, removing the first name—Ermenegildo—of its founder, who set up the company in 1910. And the brand, which has a store each in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, saw 27% growth globally in 2020-21, with a turnover of €1.29 billion ( 10,836 crore).

In an interview, Sartori talks about the rebranding strategy, the pandemic effect on global fashion and why the classic suit is dead—well, almost. Edited excerpts:

Why the change in design approach?

It’s all part of the global rebranding strategy, whether it’s India, the US or Europe. We have even modernised our logo; it’s now a double-striped logo with just the name Zegna, to reflect the path we are taking now.

The direction is towards this new modern suit or, to put it broadly, on luxury leisure wear that’s very stylish/comfortable. Basically, an elevated kind of leisure wear that has all the tailoring techniques. Imagine the most beautiful craft applied to we are talking a new form of suit, where tops and bottoms could be matching. It’s no longer the classic suit, shirt and tie of the past.

So you are saying the classic suit, as we know it, is dead?

Well, the classic suit is still an interesting element of the wardrobe but it’s no longer the most up-to-date element. We all want to be very, very comfortable in the way we dress now. We want to have different kinds of silhouettes, and freedom and comfort as part of any style today. It was already like this in the past but after the pandemic, comfort is the one thing most consumers want. We still offer the classic suit in our collection. We still have make-to-measure service but most of the style of the product is based on the new direction.

How easy is it to combine luxury with comfort?

I find it particularly interesting blending the two actually. And it’s such a fantastic new space in the market. Normally, those who do a very high level of luxury and craft have extremely classic offerings. So I think the combination of both luxury and comfort is giving something new to the market and to customers. I was yesterday with a customer in our Milan store. A beautiful-looking guy from South-East Asia had come with his wife to see fashion shows (the recently concluded Milan Fashion Week). He bought six suits, matching top and bottom, to wear to his business meetings as well as evening parties. That’s how fashion has changed, you wear the same clothes in the day and night. So the most important evolution of this new silhouette is that there is not any more a definition between indoor and outdoor. And you can use these shapes from day to night.

The pandemic has clearly changed the way we view fashion...

Absolutely. In fashion, there are always these big moments when styles change, and moments when suddenly you watch back and realise that “oh, this does not exist any more”. If it wasn’t like that big movement of the past, we wouldn’t be here. I mean, a hundred years ago, we saw men wearing three-piece suits...very, very heavy coats and suits, and so on. Compared to that, it’s a completely different world today, and it has only been a hundred years. We had different phases in between—we went through a moment of the lighter suit, when softer and lighter fabrics were popular. Little by little, the silhouette was moving, or evolving, towards the new direction. Covid-19 just made things move a little faster. Even on the red carpet, formal wear has changed. What I am trying to say is that the global silhouette is changing because the approach is changing.

How has your personal design process changed?

My two design processes are going through a parallel journey. One depends on the season for which I am creating, you know, the colours, the cuts.... The other one is a longer path, about the evolution of a silhouette and injecting new life into a garment, depending on the customer’s needs. But now that you are asking me this question, I feel these two processes are merging. I can’t throw away all I did the previous season just to design something new. You have to respect the past, right? I can’t imagine that after two seasons, garments are not validated. So the design process is a conversation between me and myself, with my team, and also the customers. It’s fluid and consistent.

Zegna has also been consistent about working towards sustainability, even before it became a buzzword. Is it really possible to be 100% sustainable?

When Mr Ermenegildo built the brand a century ago, his idea was to build something beautiful that also respected the community and took care of the environment. Who was taking care of the environment in 1910? Hardly anyone. While he built collections, he also built roads, planted trees. Zegna today is certainly not the most sustainable company but we are still walking the same path he built then.

Like we have a project of tracing the full chain of fibres, including the ones we source from Kashmir, to control that. More than anything else, sustainability is about a mindset, a way of thinking.

What will post-pandemic dressing look like?

I am very much interested in the silhouette of the future. It’s going to be a less gender-driven attitude, more fluid and freer. For sure, garments will have multifunctions. I can use the same pieces for different needs. And, for sure, our attitude towards clothes will be about buying things that are timeless. Fashion has moved forward 10 years in a span of two years. It’s revolutionary, to be honest.

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