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“Look at this jacket,” said Alessandro Sartori, at the Ermenegildo Zegna design studio in Milan. It was Tuesday night, three days before his first show for its Couture line since he became the brand’s first ever overall artistic director. It was gone 9pm, his team downstairs taking a break for dinner. It was a felted cashmere alpaca blazer, its surface tufty, its matching pants joggers. It was a great outfit. Sartori was eager to show his work, and with good reason.

Ermenegildo Zegna Couture was the first show of the Milan autumn/winter 2017 season, a vivid marker of the continuing casualisation of menswear. “There are no ties,” he said, “we moved tailors to sportswear.” That meant their tailoring knowledge, such as how to set a sleeve, could be applied to casual jackets. It’s a declaration of intent: tailoring has to loosen up.

There were some great pieces, best when at their most simple, like a desirable blazer in grey jersey. Double breasted jackets were intended to be left open, cut curved at the sides. A water-repellent leather jacket had a drawstring waist and fully functional zip. The overall roomy silhouette had appeal. Many of the models stomped around in some excellent hiking boots that were actually incredibly light.

There was also much experimentation, some of it unnecessary. An inside-out suit jacket didn’t need to be inside out. Some joggers had zips down the side. Why? Does a suit jacket really need an extra loop poking out at the button, in case you want to fasten it slightly open?

Sartori said that straight after the show, 15 to 20 looks will be available made to order. Which ones? He pointed to them on the board: the felted cashmere alpaca look; the grey jersey blazer. He went on. It was all the best pieces. From this weekend and for three weeks, a tailor in key stores will be available to take measurements, then the garment will be made and delivered in six weeks from one of Zegna’s factories in Parma. When the collection itself hits stores in June, the pieces will be available as ready-to-wear.

It was a fine start for Sartori as creative director of Zegna, a brand where he had previously worked designing its Z Zegna line before his spell at Berluti. Now let’s watch his wider actions in his role. It’s top tier Couture brand was invented for Stefano Pilati, who created many excellent pieces in his time, but whose work was isolated from Zegna as a whole. Sartori’s new artistic director role gives him control over every single design at Zegna, the first time the company has had a unified vision. And so maybe, this catwalk vision of its most rarefied line will actually trickle down to what most of their customers actually buy.

A word about the venue. The show was staged at the HangarBicocca art space, under a permanent installation by Anselm Kiefer. Seven precarious looking towers are spread in a vast warehouse, meant to represent man’s attempts to ascend to the divine. The work is spare, like an old abandoned world. Zegna saw fit to add to the work with metal bars arranged in a herringbone pattern, as well as some boxes for the models to stand on once they had taken their final walk. It’s the second time I’ve seen a fashion show invade the space. Does anyone actually ask Kiefer if he minds the intrusion? Shouldn’t art attempting to be sacred be left sacred?

Photographs: Catwalking

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