Saturday 21st October

| BY Ted Stansfield

New Era: Ted Stansfield Talks To Ermenegildo Zegna Designer Alessandro Sartori

Zegna4Tailoring is in Alessandro Sartori’s DNA. His mother was a tailor, you see, and he grew up surrounded by men and women in the clothing business. Actually, come to think of it, tailoring is even in his name – add an “al” to his cognome and what have you got? Wow. It seems that Sartori, who now sits at the helm of Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna, was destined to be a fashion designer.

It’s a sweltering day in late June, just days after the designer’s second runway show for the house, for which he transformed the courtyard of the Unversity of Milan with orange gravel and a tree (that reminded Lord of the Rings fans of the White Tree of Gondor) of the same hue. I’m in London, about to speak to him to find out more about this collection, his vision for Ermenegildo Zegna and, well, him.

TED STANSFIELD: “So, first things first, can you tell me about your childhood?”
ALESSANDRO SARTORI: “I grew up in Biella, north Italy, where most of the textile companies are, so it was very natural for me to be surrounded by people working in fashion. And that’s why, as a boy, the thing I loved was sketching and designing silhouettes. I was very passionate about design and, little by little, my interest grew – I sewed my first suit for myself when I was about 15 or 16, though it wasn’t very nice!”

TS: “Why were you surrounded by people working in fashion?”
AS: “My mother was a tailor. When she was cutting the fabrics and preparing the patterns, I wasn’t really into it when I was five years old. I just remember beautiful wedding dresses and coats, but I didn’t get the full process – I got that later. I also remember when I was going with her – mostly on Saturdays – to fabric companies to buy these things. Some of them I still work with today.”

TS: “So you were interested in fashion from a very young age.”
AS: “Yes. I was also crazy about magazines, too. I would buy as many as possible. Every Sunday morning, I would wake up at, like, 8 o’clock to buy Per Lui, which was a very well-known Italian magazine. I would buy other publications, like L’Uomo [which featured] famous photographers doing fantastic things. The big ones, the famous designers [were all] in there. All the people I admired when I was 12-16 who were designing men’s fashion, such as Armani. The first suit I bought was a blue Armani one, which I got for a wedding of a friend.”
Zegna2TS: “How did you go about making your first suit?”
AS: “I went to a fabric mill to select the fabric, because I wanted to make a double- breasted blue suit. I had designed this and worked around this idea and went to look for a fabric – a solid crepe wool. [The suit] had these beautiful buttons.”

TS: “Can you tell me what you love about suits – why do you think they’re still important as a mode of dress?”
AS: “My aesthetic is the idea of experimental tailoring blended with minimal ideas and classic formalwear or more active wear. I really love the idea of the beautiful craft, where shoulders, collars and the waist – all very important points for men – are very well shaped and sharp. [It’s] the idea of applying [those elements] together. Even in sportswear. I think why not, you know? There is always a beautiful outcome for a track pant or a jogging pant or a bomber. It’s just a question of quality. So it’s more than the suit that I’m still in love with – it’s the idea of tailoring, of beautiful craft and of nice garments, which are made with a very well-balanced fit on the basis of a silhouette.”

TS: “Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to be a fashion designer?” AS:“I was 16 or 17. I was trying to understand how could it be possible, which school [I could attend]. I knew that fabrics were in my DNA. Many of my friends were training to be fabric designers, but I definitely wanted to work on the aesthetic or the silhouette [of clothes]. I loved the idea of the shape over anything else. I decided that was the job I wanted to do. I didn’t know how or when or where, but I knew it was what I wanted. So I visited a couple of schools when I was about 16 or 17.”

TS: “What other career paths might you have taken?”
AS: “Probably something to do with design, like architecture. But if I wasn’t a designer, I’d still like to work in fashion, probably as a tailor. I like to work with my hands.”

TS: “What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?”
AS: “One of my friends is a painter and what I really like about him and the work he does, which is a very creative form of painting, is that when he doesn’t like something, he throws it away and starts again from scratch. He always says if you don’t like [what you’ve created], just redo it.”

TS: “That’s good advice. And what advice would you give to someone dreaming of becoming a designer?”
AS: “If you try to be too much an academic when you design, you never have the right emotion to catch exactly what you need. Also, you need to study to be able to understand what type of product you should design for yourself and for others. After that, just go with your creativity and study until the last minute.”
Zegna1TS: “What does Zegna mean to you?”
AS: “It’s an amazing story, such a beautiful script. We are just writing the next chapter. It was a company I wanted to work for ever since I was at school. When Ermenegildo Zegna was young he went to India to buy the looms, which [didn’t exist] in Italy at the time. He went to America to sell these fabrics. He landed in New York in 1938 and started selling these amazing creations. Reading about this visionary man [inspires me] to write the next chapter. It’s a magical company.”

TS: “What is your vision for this chapter moving forward?”
AS: “To have a very authentic, recognisable, strong and unique style. From the store to the campaigns to the silhouettes. One of the most exciting things is to see a man I don’t know wearing a garment or a shoe that we designed. He doesn’t know me but he liked the product so he bought it. That’s so important to me. It’s authentic. These are my goals.”

TS: “What do you do when you’re not working?”
AS: “I am particularly in love with modern art and photography, so I do a lot of reading and take photos in different places. My second passion is for classic cars from the ’60s and ’70s. I own a couple, in fact. I love to take care of them and to drive them. They’re really special pieces. I love the kind of emotion you feel when you’re driving them. It’s not about speed, it’s about being in a different world – I don’t know how to describe it.”

TS: “Can we go back to your love of modern art and photography – who are your favourite artists and photographers?”
AS: “As far as photography goes, I like a German artist called Candida Höfer. As for art, I love Vanessa Beecroft, of course. I love installations. And I love Daniel Arsham.”

TS: “And what do you do to relax?”
AS: “I’m in love with travelling with a friend. Sometimes alone but with a friend, that’s my ideal situation. I love to drive to places I’m not familiar with. One of my favourite places to go to is the desert between Utah and Texas. And I love to drive in Spain and Portugal. It’s so relaxing for me. And if I want to stop and do nothing I go to Sicily, particularly one area called Ortigia.”
Zegna3TS: “Speaking of your favourite places, I understand you have a personal connection to the location of your most recent runway show in Milan. Can you tell me about that?”
AS: “Yes, it’s a very special place for me. It’s where I did my design [degree], so I decided to go there for the show. We decided to show it there because the collection was inspired by a secret garden. It’s an outdoor, summery and fresh collection, where everything comes to life. It’s not somewhere you normally go – it’s a private place, a secret place. As far as the colours, four colours became the main ones – a deep orange, off-white, mid- grey and the denim blue, the indigo blue. That’s why one of the most important colours of the collection was orange. And this colour worked very well with the colours, such as the grey, and the accents like the lime green.”

TS: “You had some drummers playing at the show, too, which was very dramatic. What were they about?”
AS: “That related to the idea of creating a strong emotion. I like the type of Japanese drummer and mostly I like the idea of one single sound being played louder, softer, faster, slower. And in an enclosed space, this can be particularly strong.”

TS: “I’ve seen the photographs that Ten took. How did you find being in front of the camera?”
AS: “That was a thing – when you grow into a specific moment, it doesn’t matter if you have many people in front of you. And the full idea of the type of new aesthetic starts from the shoes and colour palette and vision. So I had a very strong emotional connection to the experience.”

Photographer Tung Walsh 
Fashion Editor Garth Spencer
Talent Alessandro Sartori 
Text Ted Stansfield
Grooming Roman Gasser at W-M Management
Photographer’s assistant
Mattia Pasin
Production Laura Motta at 2DM Management 

Taken from the latest issue of 10 Men, REBEL HEART, on newsstands now…