Imagine a marriage of Italian style with Californian casual hipness and you have the new collaboration between Zegna and The Elder Statesman. By Eric Walker
You may not automatically think of California – and certainly not of psychedelic patterns and a free-spirited striking colour palette – when you think of Zegna, the storied Italian label. Zegna is about as Italian as ice cream and Ferrari, and known for its refined and elegant menswear. Still a family business, its spiritual headquarters are in the Alps of Piedmont, where, in 1938, founder Ermenegildo Zegna built a road (Road 232) to traverse a 100sq km area of natural beauty in which he sited his woollen mill.
Known as the Oasi Zegna, this area of natural beauty is still core to the company’s values and beliefs, and now lends its name to a programme of collaborations, known as the Oasi Cashmere project, in which the Italian company is inviting partners to enter into what artistic director of Zegna, Alessandro Sartori, describes as “creative conversations”, that will promote the idea of natural materials, environmental consciousness and new collaborations.
The first of these, which has arrived this season in Zegna’s Bond Street store, is with Californian firm The Elder Statesman, which is located many miles from Piedmont in downtown Los Angeles. A group of dyers, weavers, embroiderers and knitters, who spin yarns by hand, The Elder Statesman makes most of its pieces in what it calls an “arts and craft facility” in LA. In this, it mirrors Zegna’s commitment to artisan craftsmanship, but demonstrates that this expertise does not have to have ancient roots – The Elder Statesman was started as recently as 2007, and launched making blankets in cashmere.
The collaboration sees Zegna supplying The Elder Statesman and its team of more than 50 artisans, all based in its LA design studio and factory, with Ermenegildo Zegna Group yarns and fabrics, and encouraging the Californians to do their thing. Significantly, it transpires that Zegna’s artistic director is not immune to the allure of some Americana – Sartori is known to drive a 1960s blue Ford Mustang Fastback 289 V8 with grey silver stripes, so has brought a little bit of US sun-kissed energy and fun to Italy. Which is also what he has done by inviting LA’s The Elder Statesman to collaborate on the Oasi Cashmere project.
‘Dialogues like this allow us to add new layers to our world,’ explains Sartori. Greg Chait, who founded The Elder Statesman and is its CEO, says, ‘In reality, we sometimes feel like Zegna’s eccentric cousins who set up shop in Los Angeles, bringing a centuries-old craft to the New World.’
The mash-up of the Italian sartorial tradition, which has been reimagined and modernised by Sartori, with the West Coast laid-back sensibility and quirkiness of The Elder Statesman has resulted in a striking collection. Cashmere button-down shirts come in plaids that look like vintage Californian flannels, while a fabric that has the appearance of well-worn corduroy and is produced in colourful shades like red, yellow, green and lilac is used for suiting. Patterns, textures, and silhouettes speak of a fresh take on dressing that is soft and relaxed, blending workwear with leisurewear, daywear with eveningwear.
‘We worked on this collection completely together, merging our shapes with The Elder Statesman’s distinctive colours and all-pervading spontaneity,’ explains Sartori. ‘It’s the very essence of cross pollination, which is what happens in Oasi Zegna as a natural organism and can be turned into a business and creative model which allows us to reach out [to] a new audience.’
‘This partnership feels like a homecoming,’ says The Elder Statesman’s Chait, ‘and after two and a half years of deep and meaningful discussions with Zegna, our co-designed collection is a reflection of something much larger: a recognition of quality, craft, and a deep mutual respect. Six thousand miles away from Oasi Zegna (in Piedmont Italy) is our factory in downtown Los Angeles, an Oasi of our own making.’
As well as having aesthetic innovation as its aim, the Oasi Cashmere initiative also seeks to champion natural fibres and the environment. Zegna has committed to becoming certified as fully traceable by the year 2024. ‘At the origin of this partnership are two companies who value the way things are made,’ says Chait.
‘Oasi Cashmere is a platform to encounter new cultures and visions that are both progressive and responsible,’ explains Sartori. ‘For Zegna, working with like-minded partners like The Elder Statesman is a key part of Its commitment towards the traceability of natural fibres.’
Zegna is at 37-38 Bond Street, London W1S 2RU
Eric Walker writes for The Times’ LUXX Men’s Style, Brummell and BEAU