Colin’s Column | Ermenegildo Zegna Does Australia, Big-Time

Fresh from a trip down under, where he was schooled in the age-old process of wool production, Colin McDowell shares his experience of the over-the-top Australian extravaganza to celebrate the fiftieth edition of the Ermenegildo Zegna Wool Trophy.

Australian Sheep | Source: Zegna Facebook Page

SYDNEY, Australia — This is the way the world turns. At least the fashion world — and especially the very Italian world of Ermenegildo Zegna.

In a confident show of strength in Sydney last week for which the world famous Italian wool manufacturer, supported by the Woolmark Company, hosted fashion writers and journalists flown in from across the globe — 163 invitees from no less than 31 countries — it was noticeable that at the press conference the only international guests provided with simultaneous translation were those from Korea, Vietnam, China and Japan. As Gildo Zegna told me, they numbered 50 per cent of the delegates to the conference. Guests from other nations whose English was sketchy or even non-existent had to guess what was going on — which seems counterproductive in what was at base a vast advertising campaign meant to excite interest in everyone who was invited. It was an all-too-clear indication of how this important company sees the global commercial future.

The reason for this elegant jamboree, hosted by Gildo and Paolo Zegna, chief executive and chairman respectively, of Ermenegildo Zegna Group, was to celebrate the fiftieth edition of the Ermenegildo Zegna Wool Trophy in the land that produces the majority of this precious commodity.

It was an acknowledgement of the importance of the good relations between the firm and its major growers, as the award — which is for excellence in wool production — has demonstrated since its inception. And, to make sure that this was well understood, we were all taken via charter and scheduled flights and luxury buses to a variety of sheep farms in the Armidale area of New England, which is about an hour’s flight from Sydney. There, the mysteries of the process were explained to the audience by the people who know it best — the growers, their wives, sons and daughters and the many hands required to deliver the top quality wool upon which the fame of the Zegna name is based.

Although today modern electric clippers are used in the shearing, the actual process has not changed very much in centuries — in fact, in essence, not since Biblical times. Sheep farming is still labour intensive and very hands-on. The important thing is, as it has been for centuries, the length of the fabric, and its bounce and resilience (based on the diameter of the fabric), measured in microns, which are each equal to one thousandth of a millimetre. And that comes as part of a slow and painstaking programme of breeding and selection that can take many years and generations of stock before the high standard associated with Merino wool is achieved and ready to be sold to wool manufacturers such as Zegna.

“The buyer takes the fabric and it is his job to create its commercial value,” Gildo Zegna pointed out. “Although the Australian wool industry was begun in 1789 when thirty Merino sheep were first brought to Australia by one Captain John Macarther in 1789, our family connection with wool stretches back over 105 years, and the Australian link between Zegna and the growers goes back to the 1930s. During that time the principal needs have not changed except that luxury wool has been a product that has grown exponentially over the last fifty years that we are celebrating in Sydney.”

The best of the best — “the gift of nature,” according to Mr Zegna — is the 15 micron fibre, used in the softest wools in the world, produced by Zegna in their own tailoring ranges and by prestigious companies around the world that the firm supplies with cloth, including the great tailoring establishments in Savile Row.

And they were the people who, coiffed and corseted, piled into the vast and impressive Royal Hall of Industries in Sydney’s Moore Park for the cocktail party and fashion show which marked the close of the four day junket. In addition to the international guests, the great and good of Sydney’s glitterati and social luminaries watched a multimedia projection on vast walls covered in fine white wool, a fashion show of Zegna’s A/W 2013 menswear collection on the longest runway ever seen in Australia, and drank a very great deal of Prosecco.

The last one out was apparently clocked leaving at almost 2 AM. Money well spent? You bet!

Disclosure: Colin McDowell travelled to Sydney as a guest of Ermenegildo Zegna.