MILAN, ITALY [JANUARY 17, 2015] – As far as statements about nature go, the setting for the Ermenegildo Zegna show this morning couldn’t have been greener. Massive mounds of earth surrounded a deciduous forest, with birds chorusing and thunder rolling in the distance. It was a microcosm of the world that eco-warriors would seek to save from humankind’s depredations. It was also an inspiration for Stefano Pilati’s meditation on sustainability in the business of luxury.
“Fashion can get very insular,” he said during a postshow sit-down. “We need to look outside.” After talking to experts in sustainable fabrics, Pilati settled on Harris Tweed, the cloth that has been handwoven for centuries in the Outer Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland. He chose 25 cuts from the archives of the Harris Tweed Authority and had them Zegna-ized, duplicating them in Century cashmere or cashmere silk, or in the case of the collection’s most striking effect, glazing the tweed with a needle-punched plasticized coating. (The plastic was recycled; so, in some cases, was the cashmere.) There was coat after splendid coat, not just in the glazed tweed but also in a sheer plaid-print polyurethane trimmed with Harris Tweed, and a rubber-front, tweed-back version. Some coats were dramatically scaled; others were sleekly fitted with zipped elbows. There were heathery shadow plaids and black leather. It was an outerwear tour de force.
Pilati imagined his man as an eco-leader, with the first part of the show offering clothes that had a strong sense of the outdoors, not just in the tweeds but in lush dusty-toned velvets and corduroys, and trousers tabbed as though for bike riding. (Our eco-hero had dispensed with his driver, Pilati surmised.) The second part of the show proposed a monochrome urban uniform for business. In both cases, Pilati wanted to convey a strong sense of function and sophistication. “Luxury is a choice,” he said. “There’s no need to look like a nerd.”
One facet of function in the collection was protection. The substantial footwear, the worker’s gloves, even the coated fabrics were all indicators. Protection has already appeared this season as a subtext in London’s men’s shows, and in the present global climate it’s a weighty one, tinged with pessimism. Pilati doesn’t consider himself an optimist anyway, but maybe it was Michel Gaubert’s soundtrack that spoke for his true feelings today. A jungly throb was teased with bursts of “All Along the Watchtower”—”There must be some kind of way out of here”—until the storm finally broke with full screaming Hendrix for the climax of the show. “The hour’s getting late.” Indeed.