A new gig for Stefano Pilati; a new eye at Ermenegildo Zegna

Alexander Fury

zegna 300x300 A new gig for Stefano Pilati; a new eye at Ermenegildo ZegnaAt first, I didn’t get the film that sprung into action at Stefano Pilati’s inaugural spring/summer 2014 show for Ermenegildo Zegna, opening with squealing alarms and a tattooed arm urgently pushing a red button for… what? The ejector seat?

Then, as the cogs and levels of the film, projected onto enormous screens at a site-specific installation, I reasoned that perhaps it was the cogs of the fashion industry churning away. Stefano Pilati, after all, has been ground down by those cogs recently, ejected as he was from the house of Yves Saint Laurent – the one currently undergoing a radical and controversial make-over at the hands of Hedi Slimane. ‘Make-over’ is an understatement: it’s akin to those American reality TV shows where major surgery is utilised, rather than just cosmetic enhancement, Slimane reconfiguring everything from the shop’s boutiques, to the logo, to the brand-name. Maybe that button was the ejector seat after all?

But then, you clocked it was a loom – Zegna not only sews the clobber, but weaves the very fabric, some 2.3 million metres per year. Alas, you were still puzzling over the film as the first models began to stride out. I caught the whip of a taupe belt on the first look, so engrossed was I in the looming loom. But it was easy to pull your attention back to the clothes, because they were very fine indeed. They were also nothing new – at least for Pilati. For Zegna, they amounted to a revolution in cloth.

What Pilati did today was give Zegna a fashion relevance, and a fashion identity. The Zegna suit had something new to say, a pared-down message, synching with the minimalist tailoring Pilati made his own. Some touches felt too traditional – a few of the more casual looks, the suede bomber jackets and basic shorts, felt like filler; and the staider suiting didn’t have Stefano’s spark. But they were the exceptions to the rule. The coats were stand-out – literally as well as figuratively, jutting about the body to craft a dramatic silhouette. Oddly, they didn’t look stifling, even in a Milanese heatwave. And they felt like something new, something we haven’t seen for a while. Well, since Stefano’s last shows at YSL at least.

Some people could question if that makes him a one-trick pony. Personally, I think it emphasises that Pilati has his own defined aesthetic. Zegna’s excellence is in fabric and craftsmanship: Pilati brings the design. His best shows at YSL were when the sometimes-smothering legacy of Yves was pushed to one side, becoming a postscript to what Pilati himself wanted to say. The haziness of what Zegna stands means that Pilati can carve out his own identity for the brand, above and beyond superlatively well-made, but already well-known, tailoring. The ambiguity of Zegna seems to suit him well.

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