LONDON, United Kingdom — Jerry Lorenzo’s memories of Zegna dial back decades, to his father becoming manager of the Chicago White Sox baseball team and celebrating his appointment with a visit to Michigan Avenue, the city’s Magnificent Mile, home to major luxury brands. First stop, the Italian suiting giant Ermenegildo Zegna.
“The name represented elegance, sophistication,” Lorenzo remembers, “so many aspirational things that I’ve held on to in my subconscious ever since.”
He cycled through a series of entrepreneurial incarnations before settling into fashion with Fear of God, the upmarket streetwear brand that has become a cult favourite (he prefers to think of it as “American luxury”), but those memories of his dad shopping for suits have come back into vivid play with his latest project: a collaboration with Zegna and its Artistic Director Alessandro Sartori on a new collection for men, comprised of fashion and accessories at luxury price points, set to launch during Paris fashion week and hit retail in September.
“A good opportunity to explore new territory with a new customer,” said Chief Executive Gildo Zegna, “to combine the quality of the past with a modern attitude.”
The hybrid has flourished as a menswear staple since Kim Jones fused the sporty and the sartorial in the early years of the 21st century. Even so, the principles of this latest manifestation acknowledge its fundamental unlikeliness. Fear of God is rooted in Californian subcultures: a freeform stew of sport, skate, punk, hip-hop, hints of Goth. Meanwhile, Zegna has been the apogee of tailored Italian elegance for over a century. Melrose Avenue versus Via Monte Napoleone. And Lorenzo and Sartori couldn’t look more physically different.
“Aesthetically, our worlds are so far apart,” Lorenzo agrees, “but we’re inextricably tied.” Why am I irresistibly reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in “Twins”? He hooted with laughter. “I love that movie. If you know anything about me, all I do is watch '80s and '90s movies. So many of my references come from that time period. It’s exactly that: when your destiny is tied to someone, you have to be prepared for the initial relationship to be a tough one.”
Aesthetically, our worlds are so far apart, but we’re inextricably tied.
Fact is, though, it wasn’t tough. Lorenzo and Sartori were primed for each other when they first met for coffee a year ago. “I already liked his styling, the way he dropped collections when he felt like it, the approach of his stores,” said Sartori. And Lorenzo soon found out they shared not only core values but also, he said, a common mission for menswear. “We’d debate back and forth about a shoulder width or what have you, but we never ever wavered because we believed what the collection needed to say in the end."
What that means exactly will be revealed on March 2, but the designers drop some oblique hints.
“I strongly believe there’s a gap between what’s happening culturally in streetwear and tailoring,” said Lorenzo. “It’s extreme to go from hoodie and sweats to a perfectly tailored suit tomorrow. There’s a place in between that speaks to both languages: easiness, relaxation, tailoring without compromise.”
Sartori described a “very physical” work process, “cutting and re-building silhouettes on real men, with a different approach to sizing, because Jerry likes to work on large sizes. So, the 48 is more than a 48, reflecting a freer body rather than a specific size of shoulder or chest.”
“There’s oversize and there’s a way to refine that,” said Lorenzo. “Alessandro has been extremely helpful, taking the idea and perfecting it.”
Sartori insists that working on the silhouettes was the most interesting part for him. “That was where we saw how different we were and how our approach was evolving into a third approach. One plus one equals three. I noticed a bit more sexiness and freedom.” Jerry laughed when he heard this. “Three years ago, I was talking to some consultants about what’s next for Fear of God. I said, ‘I wanna get into tailoring. I don’t know what it is, but I have this conviction that I want to make a sexy Zegna.’”
So, that was three years ago, and Lorenzo was already noticing the kind of shifts that other streetwear gurus have since picked up on, most notably Virgil Abloh’s recent declaration that streetwear is “gonna die,” drowned in a sea of T-shirts, hoodies and sneakers.
Jerry has his own take on that. “Streetwear designers have been given recognition as the creative directors and artisans they are. The title is changing but not necessarily the product.” Still, he calls himself his own best R&D department, and his instincts are telling him that a more mature look is driving the market.
Meanwhile, the customer Sartori has been courting in his collections for Zegna seems to be skewing younger, if you take the menswear spectacles he stages in Milan as his manifestos.
“There, I’m trying to evolve a certain grammar, write a new chapter for the book,” he explained. “What I’m doing with Jerry is a parallel language. I’m trying to write a new page for a generation I don’t work with today, who’ve never approached this message before. But there will also be people who haven’t found certain products from Jerry and now they’ll find suits, certain blazers, crafted leathers, beautiful coats, accessories… I think there are new product categories for both of our customers."
I’m trying to write a new page for a generation I don’t work with today, who’ve never approached this message before.
Music to a CEO’s ears. “The first thing that comes to my mind is that it will help us in the States where Jerry is super-well-known,” said Gildo Zegna. “We’ve not reached our potential with the new Zegna of Alessandro and this is a way that could help us reach out quicker. A new customer for Alessandro, a new customer for Jerry… that gives us new chances around the world.”
He acknowledges that the profound differences between the two make this a bold move, but he also notes their compatibility: the heritage, the purity, the authenticity.
Part of Lorenzo’s own purist point of view is that he bridles at the merest suggestion of the commercial exposure this collab could garner for him.
“It’s not an issue or desire for me. I’ve never relied on or hoped for that or looked to celebrity or anything other than my point of view to be the platform from which we reach the world. When you start thinking of the commercial or PR side, you begin to get lost and forget why you’re doing it.”
For him, Zegna is all about an opportunity to elevate what he already does to the very highest level.
Jerry is a spiritual guy. “You think he’s a party person, but when you call Jerry, he’s walking in the mountains with his daughter,” said Sartori.
“The foundation of what I do is faith,” explained Lorenzo. “I listen to a lot of sermons. Bishop TD Jakes says the greatest gift you can give someone is exposure. I think I’ve been exposed to a new way of doing what I do. And hopefully I’ve done all I can to expose Zegna to a new way of thinking.”
There was one early reaction to the collection that I was particularly keen to understand. Jerry Manuel introduced his son to Zegna. How does he feel about Jerry Junior’s latest move?
“I think I’ve got some solutions to have him look more like a 60-year-old man,” said Lorenzo. “I really think this collection not only shows a young man how to mature, but also gives an older market the freedom to approach their wardrobe in a different way. But, to be honest, my mom is more excited than my dad. All he wears is Fear of God. My mom said, ‘Finally my husband is not going to look like a kid!’”