Zegna: The Art of Clothing

Zegna: The Art of Clothing
If you build it, they will come’. This well-worn phrase can pretty much apply to any kind of edifice or physical landscape, but in the context of luxury boutiques, the new Ermenegildo Zegna outlet in Nigeria is the focal point.

The luxury Italian menswear brand launched its first West African flagship store in Victoria Island, Lagos, at the tail end of 2013.This opening saw a requisite red carpet celebration, with guests from Zegna’s Milan HQ rubbing shoulders with elite invitees including; socialite and Globe Motors Executive, Nkiru Anumudu, fashionista, Bola Balogun, media doyenne, Mo Abudu and airline guru, Richard Akerele.

It was a sterling occasion, and a pioneering one in terms of creating a landmark affair to highlight the fact that Nigeria, or Lagos at least, is on its way to becoming a luxury hotspot. Zegna isn’t alone in offering elite merchandise on West African soil. Regarding fashion items, available brands include Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Polo, Cartier and Rolex; all heavyweight acquisitions that can be found in multi-brand outlets within the country – but as far as having a stand alone shop – Zegna is the first.

The Akin Adesola Street store joins Zegna’s international stable of boutiques, with venue numbers now hovering somewhere around the 560 mark in a global map that includes Europe, Asia and the United States. With the Zegna group’s top of the range Couture suit collection featuring complete pieces in the undeniably upscale region of US$2,300-US$6,500, there’s a clear indication of the type of quality and the market segment that the Zegna brand is aimed at. However, aside from the potential feel good factor of acquiring high-end and exquisitely structured garment pieces, there’s something else that’s tied to the heritage aspect of the Zegna name that’s far deeper and far more aesthetically tuned. It’s the company’s quintessential fusion of Italian style and classic fashion philosophy that the sartorial Lagosian is ultimately buying into when he or she enters a Zegna boutique.

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For a fuller picture, it’s worth taking a retrospective stroll through the company’s early history. It was back in 1910 that the founder, Ermenegildo Zegna first made his name as a producer of high quality wool for suits. By 1968, his sons Aldo and Angelo had transformed this family business into one that included made-to-measure pieces. Factories in Italy, Spain and Switzerland were the main hubs of activity, but it wasn’t until 1980 that a boutique store was eventually opened in Paris, just before another was established in Milan. Since then, the expansion of venues has developed in line with a growth of products that includes textiles, ties, shirts, knitwear, accessories, fragrances and sportswear. Although there’s also a concessionary Agnona line of womenswear, the Zegna brand falls very much into the classic world of impeccable men’s tailoring. Even this whistle stop history points to the fact that the pioneering founder was something of a maestro; an artistic conductor, orchestrating an enterprising movement in stylish men’s fashion that has forged twenty-first century partnerships with equally high-end labels – Gucci, Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent, whose suits have all been manufactured by Zegna. Also, a 2011 licensing agreement with the US Estée Lauder Companies Inc., gives the world famous skin and personal care giant, exclusive global rights to market fragrances and to develop new cosmetics under the Ermenegildo Zegna group’s brands.

That’s not a bad union for Zegna, which started life by offering good quality, but general wool production from a factory base in Trivero – a commune in northern Italy. Although, even at the Zegna company’s early twentieth century inception, there was a strongly held philosophy of identifying and sticking to specific ideals of enterprise, these being long-term goals, control by the family (to keep their goals in place) and the employment of rigorous governance. The last element surely has links with the Zegna group’s specific ethics around wool production. The bond between farm and fashion was further realised by the 2002 launch of the Ermenegildo Zegna Vellus Aureum Trophy for wool that’s 13.9 micron and finer, which to the uninitiated means that the textile is of the high quality standard of the ultra-fine merino fleece that Zegna is famed for using in its clothing.

Still, these measures are very much a part of the company’s laws and processes. Another dimension to the art of clothing is surely the more salubrious element of what could be referred to as the men’s movement in fashion. Even the Zegna website takes a playful look at this phenomenon, with links to style-oriented blogs that detail the ways in which the Zegna world of muted grey or darker suits, check shirts, tricolour patterned sweaters, rubber-soled lace-up shoes and leather attaché cases can or should be stylishly worn. “Go tieless (or) take a leaf from David Lynch’s book and keep the top button of your shirt done up” is one sage piece of ensemble advice, as is the fact that “patterned suiting is very of the moment, and looks just as good worn head to toe, or broken up with more casual elements.” Zegna’s aesthetic credentials are taken a step further with another section of the website that features a selection of beautifully interpretative images of its Couture collection by blogger, photographer and founder of The Sartorialist magazine, Scott Schuman. He chose Los Angeles as an ideal backdrop for a video and fashion shoot that showcases seven Spring/Summer Zegna portraits for 2014.

The history and ‘look’ of Zegna merchandise begs the question, who exactly is the ‘Zegna’ man? It’s an interesting thought as the majority of the group’s advertising campaigns feature the familiarly bearded, lounge-like, slimline male models familiar to any Euro catwalk or magazine spread. Even a decade ago, the idiosyncratically featured, Oscar-winning character actor, Adrian Brody was the face of Zegna for two seasons. Each global region will have its campaign vibe, so it would be interesting to see if and how the preppy-cum-hipster Zegna image will translate to Victoria Island shoppers.

But, the Zegna man could be pretty much any individual who’s taken by refined, made-to-measure tailoring, whereby an existing Zegna pattern will be modified to fit the wearer. Similar, but different to the British bespoke tradition, in which a brand new and specifically cut pattern will be created and sculpted to fit the nuanced body shape of one individual, with different stages of suit fittings sometimes numbering upwards of five visits, along with multi selections from the ‘library’ of fabrics on offer.

Still, bespoke can often be a catch-all word for hand crafted suits made from high quality fabrics – although there are limits to the choice of buttons, linings and pocket style or lapel widths in the made-to-measure palette. Alternatively, a bespoke clothier who cuts the cloth and does the needlework will usually allow for limitless options. In either case, treading a line between made-to-measure and bespoke is obviously enticing for those who have the type of finances to comfortably match the quality of the product, without wincing.

Bearing these factors in mind, the multi layers of creative design activity, business savvy and social responsibility are key to the Zegna brand identity, and the company’s artistic side is obvious. In 2008, the specifically visual arts-based, All’Aperto (Outdoors) project was launched as part of the Zegna Foundation series. Curated by family member, Andrea Zegna and Milan-based writer and curator, Barbara Casavecchia, the vision is to make contemporary art and its values accessible to a broad audience and to consistently support site-specific, permanent artwork that’s significantly been created in the Trivero area where the Zegna company first started. By working with established international artists, the project’s mission is to address issues that directly relate to the community, the town and its inhabitants.

All this may seem like a labyrinthine, or off-tangent way at looking at the arrival of Zegna on West African soil, but it’s interesting to consider the stories behind this particular heritage brand when it comes to its ability to move through different markets. Yes, the prices may seem steep for off-the-hanger or made-to-measure suits – despite the workmanship or calibre of fabric that may have gone into them. Similar views could also be levelled at the company’s high-end fragrances or accessories that may, to some, seem indistinguishable from, or just as stylish as that of many other brands. However, more than simply buying into a well-known Italian name, it’s the added factor of having a back story of culture, family integrity and artfully symphonic business strategies that most likely make the experience of browsing the shelves of a Lagos-located (or any other) Zegna boutique that little bit more seductive.


Nana Ocran is a London-based writer and editor specializing in contemporary African culture. She was Editor-in- Chief for the Time Out Group’s series of guides to Lagos and Abuja, and has consulted on, and established publications on West African culture for the Danish Film Institute, the Arts Council England and the Institute of International Visual Arts. She was a nominee for CNN’s African Journalist of the Year (2011), and Curatorial Advisor for the Afrofuture programme at La Rinascente during Milan Design Week 2013. Nana Ocran is a regular features writer for Arik Airline’s in-flight magazine, Wings, in which she writes about art, lifestyle, innovation and cultural trends relating to Arik’s 33 destinations. She has been a jury member for Film Africa London and the Festival del Cinema Africano, d’Asia e America Latina, Milan. She currently blogs about Lagos for Virgin Atlantic.

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