As a family business, Ermenegildo Zegna goes back to the second half of the 19th century. A watchmaker by trade, Angelo Zegna started weaving wool using four looms. His last and 10th child, Ermenegildo was born in 1892 and took over the business to transform it into one of Italy’s best-known and dynamic family businesses. Shweta Bhatia finds out more
At the age of 18, Ermenegildo Zegna founded the wool mill, which is known as the Lanificio Zegna, in 1910 in Trivero in the Alpine foothills near Biella. Ermenegildo began to produce fabrics using the same four looms his father used. In his words, these fabrics had to be ‘the most beautiful in the world’.
This vision laid the foundation and Ermenegildo’s strategies proved to be a roaring success. By 1945, Zegna fabrics were sold in over 40 countries. Ermenegildo’s business mind was not limited to this particular industrial field. He understood that the products couldn’t be separated from their relationship with the local territory and the community. He believed in people’s well being and not just that of his own employees. During his time, he had built a meeting hall, a library, a gym, a cinema/theatre and a public swimming pool. He also built a medical centre and a nursery school. An environmentalist by nature, he planted thousand of trees and built the ‘Panoramica Zegna’ road which links Trivero and Bielmonte, a tourist resort 1,500 meters above sea level.
Ermenegildo’s sons, Angelo and Aldo, led Zegna’s charge into the high-end world of menswear fashion. This happened in the 1960s. “I see four forces acting throughout my father’s life. First of all, he was born in the right environment to develop his business aptitudes. There were various small firms competing in a small area. Secondly, he was always determined to get the better of his British rivals by offering creative Italian fabrics with unbeatable quality. The third force was an exceptionally open mind, especially regarding the social welfare of the territory and redistribution of value to workers. Lastly, there was a fundamentally important relationship with nature, his awareness that natural resources are limited and that we must protect them. He was an ecologist long before the term even existed,” Angelo Zegna said while describing his father’s achievements.
Over the years, Zegna has carefully expanded its scope of activities. In 1999 it acquired the luxury women’s fashion brand, Agnona, and in 2003 Ermenegildo Zegna entered the fragrance business with its first license agreement, followed in 2011 by a new agreement signed with the Estée Lauder Companies. The Group then signed two worldwide licensing agreements in 2006 with Perofil to develop, produce and distribute a line of men’s underwear and in 2013 with Marcolin for the worldwide production and distribution of sunglasses and eyeglasses. In 2010, the Group began its collaboration with Girard-Perregaux, the symbol of Swiss ‘Haute Horlogerie’. Now managed by the fourth generation of the Zegna family, the Group is led by Ermenegildo Zegna, as CEO, and by Paolo Zegna, as Chairman. In 2013, Zegna entered into a long-term collaboration with Maserati to produce a limited edition sedan, the Quattroporte by Ermenegildo Zegna. The Maserati, unveiled in Spring 2014, has been reinterpreted and customized with fabrics produced by the historic Lanificio Zegna wool mill in Trivero.
But despite all these projects, the Zegna suits are the true heroes of the company. The style and choice of fabrics is of stellar quality. The suave lot have already noticed the latest collection and the contrasting volumes reveal unconventional silhouettes. Flowing trousers, classics but subtly detailed, evident or hidden, in their construction are paired with nonchalance either with oversized outerwear or elegantly tight fitted, single or double breasted jackets, studied for an innovative and extremely light way of tailoring; or with floating summer coats, multi pocketed gilets, bomber jackets and draped blousons, alongside shirts and overcoats that intersperse the vocabulary of men’s wardrobe icons. Essential, also, is the wide range of accessories, all made with eco sustainable, metal-free leather, following the mission Zegna started last season when they introduced the eco-leader campaign.
There are few fibers in the world, natural or man-made, that offer all the characteristics of pure, high-quality wool. Ermenegildo Zegna understood this more than 100 years ago when he cultivated the expertise required to master the craft of turning precious raw wool fibers into flawless, fine and superfine wool fabrics. Since the very beginning, Zegna has handpicked the absolute best raw materials from their places of origin and has carefully protected and preserved the largely unaltered artisan process: from wool to yarn, from yarn to fabric, and from fabric to exquisite menswear. This same boutique approach to industrial craftsmanship is what distinguishes Lanificio Zegna from almost every other fabric manufacturer. While most begin the fabric production process using yarn sourced from various suppliers, Zegna manage the entire process, starting with the sourcing of the wool fibers themselves, to guarantee an unmatched level of quality and uniqueness. It is therefore no surprise that Zegna’s fabrics are among the most sought after by reputable tailors and fabric retailers.
Because of the care Zegna undertakes in the scouring (washing), combing, spinning, dying, warping, finishing and perfecting of the world’s finest wool fabrics, the passion they are driven by proves to be their exacting and essential principle. Today, the brand maintains that statement. One of Italy’s most acclaimed exports, with it’s signature red seal, Zegna, has made a mark in the men’s fashion industry and is known to be a true investment piece that one can cherish.