Ermenegildo Zegna Gets Streetwise In A Collaboration With Fear Of God
On paper, the bios of Alessandro Sartori and Jerry Lorenzo could not read more differently. Sartori is the 54-year-old artistic director of Ermenegildo Zegna, one of Italy’s largest tailors with more than a century of history. Long before his formal education at the Istituto Marangoni Milan, he created his first suit, a sharp blue number, at the age of 15 in the hopes of impressing his family. “It took six months to make, and it was a complete disaster—I can’t look at it now because it’s full of mistakes, but I thought it was beautiful at the time,” he says, chuckling at the memory.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, is the designer behind eight-year-old, Los Angeles-based streetwear label Fear of God, beloved by the likes of Kanye West, who sported the label at the 2016 Met Gala and collaborated with Lorenzo on his early Yeezy releases. Lorenzo is open about his lack of fashion credentials, having started in marketing for sports agencies before throwing parties for hip hop’s finest like Pusha T and Kid Cudi. “I thought I was going to be a sports agent,” he says. “I still don’t really like being called a designer.”
They met two years ago while Lorenzo was in Milan for business and immediately bonded over more than just fashion. “We realised that we saw the world in very similar ways even though we come from very different backgrounds,” says Lorenzo. Discovering their curiosity for each other’s expertise, the designers began speaking of a collaboration that could fill the gap in today’s menswear for relaxed tailoring, or rather the sweet spot between the casual and formal extremes of their respective brands.
Their chat resulted in a sleek capsule of 38 looks launching globally this month, featuring collarless cashmere suits, drawstring trousers and silk tracksuits. Think skatepark staples but in butter-soft leathers. Street and luxury collaborations have become ubiquitous in recent years—just this summer Dior Men dropped its already sold out Air Jordan sneakers and Matthew Williams of 1017 Alyx 9 SM fame was named as creative director of Givenchy—but there seems to be a thorough and balanced cross-pollination of both the Zegna and Fear of God aesthetics through this mashup. It’s not just another case of slapping logos onto each other’s collections.
“It’s like one plus one equals three,” says Lorenzo. “We weren’t so much trying to meet in the middle as create something new that defines the times.” Indeed, as the entire world speeds up the shift to what Lorenzo calls a “casual Friday approach five days a week”, their collaboration could not be timelier.
Meeting Of The Minds
That’s not to say there weren’t compromises. “The one sticking point was the shoulder fill [width],” Lorenzo says. “We would literally argue over whether to have 52 or 54 cm, because historically at Zegna, there’s a correct way to tailor and an incorrect way, and the way I see suiting is technically, well, incorrect.” With this project, Lorenzo set out to make tailoring less “intimidating”.
“When a suit is too perfect, it can take a guy outside of his normal character,” he says. “I like the ease and effortlessness of a shoulder that’s slightly off, the idea that a guy just threw the jacket on without trying too hard, which allows for someone to look more approachable.”
These shapes were inspired by his father, Jerry Manuel, a major league baseball player turned minor league coach, who incidentally introduced Lorenzo to the Zegna name. “Actually, suits for us were never brand new. They were always given to us by an older relative so they’d be a bit baggy,” he says. “We were a cheque-to-cheque kind of family despite what my dad’s career suggests, and he was required to suit up during company road trips and would wear this same boxy, blue blazer. He’d always manage to make whatever he was wearing appropriate, acceptable and cool because of his character.”
Sartori sees this as another chapter for the 110-year-old house, a way to keep craft relevant in current times. Having spent more than a decade at Zegna (interrupted by a five-year interlude at Berluti), Sartori has seen the tailoring market expand. “Ten years ago, bespoke services became a form of uber-luxury so our made-to-measure service exploded,” he says. And now he is also witnessing its decline— some have even speculated that the pandemic has rung the death knell of the industry—but there’s no sign of panic in his voice. In fact, he and his team are using technology in ways never before seen in the traditional world of tailoring.
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In July, Zegna produced a digital presentation instead of a fashion show, with models wearing the spring-summer 2021 collection weaving through Oasi Zegna in Trivero, Italy, a wildlife reserve that was founded by the Zegna family in 1993. The team is also testing ideas to take clients’ measurements from anywhere in the world.
“Tailoring goes through constant changes depending on the times and people’s habits,” he says. “Now, you’re not obliged to wear suits in most places so men are blending them with sportswear—I’m a big fan of that.” What’s more, Lorenzo’s take on unisex dressing led Sartori to imagine his new pieces even being worn by women.
“Seeing our menswear on women was definitely a happy surprise for me, but I didn’t even think about it in a commercial way,” says Sartori. “I just started envisioning the partners of our customers or just some ladies I know looking good in them.”
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The words “authenticity” and “honesty” came up on more than one occasion during the interview with Sartori. In 2019, Zegna launched a campaign called What Makes A Man?, so I asked him, in today’s chaotic context, what does he think makes a man?
“As far as myself, I try to always have an honest and open approach, to make sure positive values like diversity are at the core of what I do and not just something talked about only on Sundays,” he says. “I want you to see it in the casting of our campaigns with Nicholas Tse, Mahershala Ali, our models, the people in our studio, and now with Jerry—these people I work with, what you see is what you get; we’re like that.”
In the same way, Lorenzo speaks at length about Fear of God’s purpose beyond creating hyped hoodies, believing the brand to be a platform that advocates for diversity and even Christianity, his personal reason for naming the brand Fear of God. Recently Lorenzo designed a “GF” T-shirt with 100 per cent of proceeds going to George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter. “Everything we do is because we’re pushed by the responsibility of the gift we’ve been given,” Lorenzo says. “So when we speak to issues of social injustice or inclusion or sustainability, we don’t need a PR meeting about how to make changes because we’ve already been operating on those lines since day one.”
It must have been nice to see this credo reflected in Sartori, I suggest. “Narcissistically, it was so good to see that what we’re doing in Fear of God—our family values, putting people first, focusing on timelessness—when I visited Zegna and met Alessandro and Ermenegildo’s family,” says Lorenzo. “It just reassured us that the things we’re doing are in line with a luxury house we aspire to be one day, because we’re playing for forever.”
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