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Zegna Goes Public As It Seeks to Chart a New Future

The Italian menswear company’s public filing, the latest in a slew of fashion IPOs in 2021, is just one piece of a larger plan to redefine the brand.
Zegna saw shares climb nearly 6 percent on the first day of trading.
Zegna saw shares climb nearly 6 percent on the first day of trading.
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One final fashion IPO is squeaking through in 2021.

On Monday, Zegna began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The Italian luxury menswear brand stands out from the pack of mostly American start-ups that went public this year, a group that includes Warby Parker, Allbirds, Thredup and more.

Like those companies, Zegna, which trades under the ticker ZGN, was met with a warm initial reception from investors. The brand, valued at $3.1 billion as it went public, raised $761 million with its IPO. Shares rose nearly 6 percent in their first day of trading to close at $10.74.

The company staged its IPO via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a shell organisation created to merge with another firm and take it public. Zegna’s SPAC’s creation was led by European investment group Investindustrial and former UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti. The Zegna family retains a 66 percent stake in the public company.

In an interview, chief executive Gildo Zegna said the brand, which also owns Thom Browne, and the crowd of venture capital-backed companies that held IPOs earlier this year aren’t as different as they might first appear.

“I think of it as a start-up almost with a strong background of the history and the good things we did, but it’s a new beginning,” Zegna said. “The fact that we have the wind blowing in the right direction from New York is a good sign of hope.”

Zegna is receiving an influx of cash as it recovers from a steep drop in sales early in the pandemic, and looks beyond menswear staples such as suits and silk polo shirts. The company’s revenue fell by 23 percent in 2020, though it had made moves toward recovery by the first half of 2021, when Zegna also returned to profitability. In 2019, Zegna’s revenue was €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion), and the company expects to return to 2019 levels this year.

The 111-year-old company dropped the “Ermenegildo” from its name earlier this year, becoming simply “Zegna,” and folded two of its smaller sub-brands, Z Zegna, a sportswear line, and “XXX,” its runway label, underneath the wider Zegna umbrella.

The company will use the money it raised in its IPO to build up its brick-and-mortar footprint and expand beyond its staple suits — something that only became more important over the course of the last two years. Its signature product now represents 27 percent of sales, down from 44 percent in 2016.

“[We want to] change the perception from a power suit to a luxury leisure brand,” said Zegna.

That revamp has been brewing over the past few years, predating the pandemic that shook up the industry. In 2018, Zegna acquired Thom Browne’s brand at a $500 million valuation. The brand is open to future acquisitions, said Zegna, but wants to be meticulous about selecting the right partners.

“We will not be in a rush,” he said. “We have more resources than before but we will use them accordingly. We will not just spend money for the sake of adding brands or factories to the table. They have to fit within our strategy, our values, our DNA.”

Zegna’s public filing is also a sign of continuing change in Italy’s fashion industry, which has previously seen decades-old heritage brands reluctant to pursue mergers, acquisitions of their own or in some cases, take a brand out of family control. Rumours have swirled around Armani potentially selling to an Italian luxury conglomerate this year, and Ferrari’s owners, the Agnelli family as well as Diesel parent OTB, both made acquisitions this year.

“Finally, the good traits of Italy are coming out,” Zegna said. “There is much more willingness to work among ourselves to exchange information and to open our capital to partners or to the market so the business overall is improving dramatically.”

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