Ermenegildo Zegna: athletic couture with Oscar Niemeyer

A proper fashion moment at Ermenegildo Zegna, that ignited the Milan menswear catwalk season with a truly novel athletic couture collection in an awesome setting Friday night.


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Ermenegildo Zegna - Spring-Summer2019 - Menswear - Milan - © PixelFormula

After a season of European May and June women’s cruise shows dampened by showers and downpours, the stars aligned for Zegna’s creative director Alessandro Sartori with a sunset worthy of Tiepolo. The models walking along a 100-meter metallic runway – finished with Zegna Couture’s signature triple knot insignia – balancing in the midst of a lake in front of Oscar Niemeyer’s epic Mondadori headquarters.
 
A cunning blend of athletic fabrics, couture detailing, arty finish and avant-garde printing, it marked a great opening to Milan.
 
Hard to imagine a better backdrop to this spring 2019 collection which stretched the definition of men’s tailoring into a new paradigm. Designer Alessandro Sartori has often been influenced by architecture; and the rippling concrete roof of the building echoed in a series of great silk cargo and billowing pajama pants worn with bold plaid double-breasted jackets or blousons.
 
“Building a new wardrobe for a man who is in love with tailoring, but doesn't want just another classic jacket. Instead, why not a classic fabric in a new silhouette or a bomber jacket suit; or a blouson with matching pants?” said Sartori at a post-show cocktail before posing for photos with actor Dev Patel.
 
A fusion of athletic and couture – with wickedly cut striped pants and scattered pattern plaid jerkins; or remarkably feather light – and completely water repellant – leather suits. All in a fresh summer masculine palette of grays, olive and brights. Above all, his degradé madras: material where every four meters they slightly change the print with new technology – so no two jackets will ever be the same.
 
“Basically I use our bespoke couture atelier like a lab. Everyday I see my design team and I say let’s try this. Many pants have no outside stitches, but are sewn inside,” explained the designer, who also employed a sense of humor in pieces like classic Zegna shopping bags for shirts, though made in sleek leather, not paper.
 
Climaxing with what Sartori calls “souvenir prints” made from mixing up objects on the floor of his studio – like muscular statues, shoes, book covers, golf clubs.
 
“I envisioned my own life through the prints,” he smiled, his eyes taking in the majestic building."


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Ermenegildo Zegna - Spring-Summer2019 - Menswear - Milan - © PixelFormula

In effect, Sartori consecrated Milan’s most famous, though least visited, important building of the 20th century.  Designed by Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer for publishing house Mondadori that opened in 1975.
 
“This year represents the 50th anniversary of Zegna prêt-à-porter back in 1968.  One of the first designers Zegna hired was Emilio Pucci with his curvilinear patterns, and Milan was blossoming in that moment with people like Ettore Sottsass, which is exactly when Niemeyer first came to Milan. The Mondadoris gave him the commission for the building in 1968, even if it was only completed in 1975. So during those seven years he came to Milan constantly, and was he being influenced by Milan. And that is the energy that I wanted to tap into,” he concluded.
 
It is the most iconic building in Europe by Niemeyer, arguably the single most influential architect of the 20th century. Built when he was forced to leave his native Brazil during the military dictatorship that ruled his homeland for two decades until 1985. A true citizen of the world, like the very youthful cast – which was more African and Asian than Caucasian – and the great soundtrack – everything from Alan Parsons to a remix of Paradise Garage by Massive Attack. Adding a new layer of welcome emotion to Zegna, a brand that had a certain corporate chill historically.
 
In 1966 Niemeyer moved to Paris where he was to build the Communist Party headquarters at Place du Colonel Fabien, but his work in Milan with its abstract curves best expresses his reputation as the sculptor of monuments. Indeed, the Mondadori building directly recalls Niemeyer’s design for the Presidential Palace in Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil built in the 1950s.
 
A legendary workaholic, like Sartori, Niemeyer died aged 104 in 2012. One can only imagine how much he would have loved this show.

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