As CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna, Gildo Zegna oversees the Italian fashion company’s casual, sportswear and ready-to-wear lines. Zegna has been at the helm of the company for more than 20 years, and he has helped it become one of the world’s largest luxury menswear brands. Zegna was recently in Toronto to launch his company’s new boutique with Harry Rosen. The Globe sat down with him to discuss how the male fashion consumer is changing, how the company’s new luxury streetwear line, XXX, is a sign of what younger consumers are looking for, and why casual Friday has become casual every day.
How do you think men as fashion consumers are changing these days?
A lot. I think we have changed more than women. We were restricted by some stereotype of our ancestors. We have thrown that shadow away and we’ve found a freedom that was not there before. And it disregards age. You see 70-year-old men that look cool.
How would you describe Zegna’s current image?
I would say modern Italian, that’s for sure. Elegant with strong attention to details. An elegance and a style forever. That doesn’t mean we don’t like to change. On the contrary. Take XXX. It’s a younger project. It’s interesting and appealing. XXX is luxury streetwear, and I think from the street you see trends that you try to replicate and apply to your own brand.
Do you think the interest among men for a more casual but very stylish look comes from streetwear?
It comes first from comfort. People want to travel light, so you have to create a product that meets that expectation of performance, of light wear, of feeling good. Look at the wool jersey. We have created a special Techmerino jersey in pure wool that is unique. If you start travelling in that or driving your car in that or wearing it during the weekend, you’ll think, why can’t I wear this in the office? Travel and comfort and easy living have a lot to do with that.
Office dress codes have become a lot less conservative than they once were.
Look at the evolution of the tie. The tie today has become quite singular. It used to be a restriction or a formality. There is no uniform any longer. People can be elegant by wearing a jogging suit and a sneaker or an open shirt without a tie, or with jeans and a sneaker. Men have become more experimental. They’ve become more sure of themselves. We’re more independent and that’s opened up a new market for menswear. The options are wide open. It’s up to brands like us to offer new opportunities by still keeping a code of conduct.
What’s the code?
I think it is good taste. You have to define the boundary of that, but I think it’s good taste. Don’t overdo it. Use colour appropriately. I think for us natural fabric is a must. What the engine is for a car, the fabric is for a suit.
What catches your eye when you see a well-dressed man?
You see it right away, whether he feels comfortable in what he wears. You can tell whether he wears what he wears for comfort or for constriction in a way. How well it feels. That’s the first thing I notice. I also see how he puts the different pieces together – the watch, the sock, the tie, the shirt, the jacket, the pant.
That interest in casual, comfortable looks you mentioned – how long do you think that will be around before the pendulum swings back to more traditional attire?
I think it will keep going. There might be degrees. Take the example of stretch fabrics or the example of jersey. It used to belong more to women’s wear than men’s. Today you’ve got natural fibres, wool, natural stress going to menswear. It’s a natural evolution. The technology and innovation factor will make the trend go to higher levels. I was wearing these cargo pants in jersey in pure wool and it looks good even with a blazer. But I think it’s more than Friday casual.
Do you think Friday casual exists any more?
I think it’s all casual. It’s like colour. Do we like colour? Yes, but you have to use it appropriately. You can still look elegant and proper.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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