ESQ&A: Alessandro Sartori

Homecoming of the menswear prodigal son.

BY Eugene Lim | Apr 26, 2017 | Fashion

Images by Ermenegildo Zegna

Esquire: Your career at Zegna has come full circle. Why did you return? 

Alessandro Sartori: There are moments in your life when you have a specific feeling, and that is not about being negative about what you do, or being ready for new experiences, but about a special energy and sensitivity. 

Even after my departure, I felt that Zegna was a fantastic place, that it was the place to work in menswear. And while I am thankful to Antoine Arnault for everything that I learned during my time [at Berluti], the offer from Gildo [Zegna, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna] arrived at the right moment for me to make a change. 

What interested me was this new project that he had in mind. The idea of building a new company, where all the beautiful crafts are rejuvenated with new themes, new marketing, new digital strategy, a new vision for advertising and visual merchandise and, of course, new design. 

So, what touched me was the realisation that this is a special house with a special soul, juxtaposed with an amazing project, and thus, I decided to resign and join Zegna.

Esquire: People might wonder, “Why should I go to a Zegna store for a suit when I can go to a tailor and order a suit made with Zegna fabric?” Does the sale of fabrics dilute your brand message? 

Alessandro Sartori: Good question. Actually, we don’t share the same fabrics. The fabric used by Ermenegildo Zegna is exclusive to us. Sure, we share the same source and both carry the words “Cloth by Ermenegildo Zegna”, but the creativity is different; hence, I personally don’t think we dilute the message. For example, we may share a similar colour palette for several seasons but the designs on the fabric will vary. Or we might go in completely opposite directions; we could go bright, while they opt for something more classic or vice versa. So, whatever the case, I don’t see that risk.

Esquire: Tell me more about the Defining Moments campaign? 

Alessandro Sartori: When we discussed the new campaign with Gildo, Luca [Lo Curzio, Head of Marketing and Digital], and the rest of the team, we started with the new company profile, its approach and customer profile. 

As you can see in the casting for the FW17 show, the idea isn’t about one man but rather characters. I love strong personalities. I love people who dare to express themselves. I find them much sexier than someone who is unwilling to speak his mind. At the same time, I like men with a special type of beauty. More than a cliché of being blonde or black, tall or short, Brazilian or German, I like them different. The same goes for women.

It’s beautiful to have your vision of beauty and gather a group of people of different ages that share the same sensitivity. We decided to do that for the campaign, which centred on the idea of a conversation between men of different generations who are not father and son. I wanted to capture the moment that made you the man that you are today. We named it Defining Moments, as seen in the conversation between McCaul Lombardi and Robert De Niro. We also found a perfect connection between the two men, in the form of Italian grandfathers, Italian family names, and a family story that is rooted in Italy. 

But in the future, the campaign could be about musicians, artists or chefs. We don’t really want to focus on one form of expression, but rather the idea of a group of men having a conversation and sharing their values. So that’s the starting point. 

Esquire: I think it’s interesting that you chose actors, as opposed to models, like many of the big fashion houses. As a consumer, I feel that I can relate more to actors like De Niro or Lombardi. Do you feel the same way? 

Alessandro Sartori: I think the starting point needs to set the tone. After that, you can build more layers and articulate that same idea by bringing together a man who is established in his field with one who is on the cusp of greatness. So, for sure, you need to build the language and then you can extend it to different types of men. If you use an actor, the effect is more immediate, but you could also feature someone from another industry. So, the answer is yes, it’s easier, but I wouldn’t want to stick to the expected. I’d like to think that we can go beyond that, to explore different types of men. 

Esquire: Is that how you see the campaign evolving? 

Alessandro Sartori: Absolutely, yes.  

Esquire: Does this mean the Defining Moments campaign will run for the duration of your tenure at Zegna? 

Alessandro Sartori: Absolutely. But, of course, things evolve very quickly these days. We might run it for a long time or only for three or four years. 

We wrote the script like a documentary, not a movie where they play a specific role. It’s different. When we are shooting and filming the campaign, and with each change of location, we would stop and we’d do a photo. But we never stop filming. It was a very interesting process showcasing the life of these two characters without interrupting their conversation. So we have film, content and we have photos which are related to all of what we did.

Esquire: Your appointment as Artistic Director is a defining moment in Zegna’s history. 

Alessandro Sartori: This is a very fresh company where young talents combine their experiences with that of master tailors and patternmakers, and I think this moment is just the beginning of a new chapter. 

Now that fashion evolves so quickly, I don’t see big steps and static moments like before. Today could change [snaps fingers] instantly and you’ll need to respond accordingly. But I have a feeling that the Defining Moments campaign, a conversation between people of different generations, is the starting point of a chapter that I hope will culminate in the creation of a Zegna style and identity. 

Esquire: Do you have any specific plans for the Asian market like a capsule collection? I know, for example, that the Defining Moments campaign has a short that features Wang Deshun and Sunny Wang. How do you hope to connect with your Asian consumers? 

Alessandro Sartori: We are cooking up many different projects, but nothing that I can reveal yet. To me, what is important is that the aesthetic of the collections stays the same and linear all around the world. If we were to start creating collections for different parts of the world, we would never be able to create a unique style. 

However, a limited edition for a specific project is more than welcome, and we are already working on three or four different projects. For example, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Zegna in Japan in September and we have created a fantastic line of products specifically for that. The capsule collection that we launched for bespoke shoes in London was also something particularly interesting.

Esquire: One last question: what’s the legacy that you hope to leave behind? 

Alessandro Sartori: In terms of myself or my work? 

Esquire: Could be anything… Life? 

Alessandro Sartori: I really like the idea of working a strong identity. And I like the idea of identifying a style and being recognisable for that style. I don’t think there is anything sexier than thinking about a silhouette for a man, designing for that, working on the product, building a story, and then seeing a stranger on the street wearing something that you designed and observing him, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. 

But I think the idea has a lot of meanings. And mostly, you have a vision of what you designed, and real men that could wear that. So, working on this principle, I think that what I would like to be able to do is build and convey these messages. 

Esquire: Thank you very much for your time. 

Alessandro Sartori: Thank you. Very good answers. But mostly, very good questions.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, April 2017.