THE DESERT DOGMA
Zegna x The Elder Statesman F/W 2023-24
photography by OLIVIER ZAHM
What gives life meaning ? Andrea Zittel’s A-Z West in the California desert explores the potential of freedom, autonomy, and cultural isolation.
Svita Sobol, style
Greg Chait, Kyla Coleman, Ozzie Juarez, Delilah Summer Arillo, and Aaron Rose, talents
Landscape Photography, Aleph Molinari
interview with Alessandro Sartori by Olivier Zahm
interview with Greg Chait by Aleph Molinari
INTERVIEW WITH ALESSANDRO SARTORI, ZEGNA’S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Alessandro, how did you see the world when you were a child?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — I had a very special childhood and a special view of the world. I remember the period with my mom, dad, and brother in a very touching way. My mom was a tailor — my family name is Sartori, which in Italian means “tailor.” My mom had an atelier right in front of our apartment. She’d been working as a tailor for 10 or 15 years. Then my father decided to rent the apartment in front of where we lived, on the fourth floor in the same building in Biella, where I grew up. My father gave her that apartment as a surprise, and she moved her atelier, with seven tailors, into that apartment. From where we were living, we crossed a corridor, and there was her atelier. So, during my childhood, I was always in my mom’s atelier. I remember when I was three, four, five, six, 10, 12 — I was always there, doing everything. I did my homework there when I was five and six. I did my sketches when I was 12, 13. I helped my mom. We bought fabrics, and we went to see special trimmings and accessories when I was 16, 17. Then I went to textile college, and then to design school in Milan. But my whole childhood was related to fashion.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Was it a happy childhood? We’re speaking about the 1980s…
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Very happy. I don’t remember any negative moments in the ’80s, even if I was living only with my mother because my dad had passed away. She was an incredible, happy soul. She never remarried because she was always taking care of me, my brother, and her atelier.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your mother had a strong work ethic.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Yes, but in a very happy way. Everything she did was so genuine. A customer would arrive, and she’d suggest not to do a certain outfit or a certain jacket because she didn’t feel it was right for them… She never pushed to sell more. She was honest. I really enjoyed every moment of my youth because it was a very nice, kind, and gentle youth.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, with this happy childhood, how do you see the evolution of the world today? Are you optimistic?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Because of my mother, and because of my education, I’m a very positive person. I always see a brighter future, and I always see possibilities. In the ’80s and ’90s, fashion was brighter and happier, but it didn’t affect the world as much. Today, in a more critical situation, with a lot of fears, fashion is able to access different forms of communication. Fashion is much more able to influence big decisions. If we’re doing actions that reflect an environmentally conscious mindset, then we have to communicate what we do in the most transparent way. So, it’s a kind of reverse situation. That’s why I see big potential in what we can do and how we can influence good choices. I speak often with my colleagues, and we are all conscious of our responsibility. Whereas the past was more about designing and beauty, today there is something more, which is responsibility or social responsibility. I don’t know a single designer at Zegna who doesn’t consider this when they make a decision or choose a fabric,
a supplier, a composition, a construction…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Even a color.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Yes. They’re all fully conscious of this responsibility, even young people. And that’s really interesting because we changed gear, and now fashion is a true game-changer, a big industry. Like marketing, media, industry, cars, and electronics, fashion is a pillar of possible change.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there also commercial pressure?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — No, quite the opposite: we feel responsible. For me, it’s the most exciting period of my career. And I started in ’93, ’94 — so, 29 years ago. I love the fact that today we’re able to say things that can influence decisions.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, for you, fashion, connected with art, is a transformative force.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — It is. Fashion today is a pillar with a lot of connections, and that is linked — through communication, digital, and big new media — to transformation. It gives a direction of taste. This is a decade, or a generation, where fashion is as important as music was 20 or 30 years ago. We were influenced by music and by what musicians were telling us. I think today fashion is as important as music.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Zegna is famous for tailoring and for its beautiful fabrics. And this classic base is far better for the planet than any kind of fast fashion. It’s a paradox that the luxury world — and Zegna is part of it — is actually an active agent for change.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Yes. The thing that surprised me the most, ever since I was a student, is that Zegna puts social responsibility first, before any other value. Zegna is quality, Zegna is craft, Zegna is Italian. Zegna is people, Zegna is values. I was very attracted by a sentence I read from the founder, Ermenegildo Zegna, who started the business in 1910. Then his two sons, Angelo and Aldo, took over the company in the mid-1960s. The third generation, also called Ermenegildo, is the CEO and my boss. But when the first Ermenegildo started, he wrote in a notebook, “I want to build the best menswear brand in the world, taking care of people and giving back through the environment.” He said that in 1910.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In Germany at the time, it was the beginning of nudism and direct contact with nature. He was very avant-garde.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — He was totally avant-garde. Even his way of being innovative with the environment in 1910 was avant-garde. He said: “I’m an entrepreneur, I have a business, I make profits. I will use the profits to build nature, and I will give back oxygen and nature to the people I work with to make profits.” Fantastic! He wrote a chapter of the Italian story of entrepreneurship because he built a road that connected the little villages in the mountains of the Alps, in the north of Italy, back to the valley. Almost 30 kilometers [18.6 miles] of road carved into the rocks. There are amazing photos. Then he put together a natural reserve where, just in the first 10 years, he planted half-a-million trees. So, what today we call Zegna started in 1910 from this little man with the best vision in textile and fashion, with the idea of giving back through nature. I was always attracted to a company with these values.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Where luxury is a way to buy less but better.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Less but better and more durable. We all have needs of our own. You have a house, a wife, a child, whatever. We have an education, we have friends, and we’re always supporting something. Working for a brand that has a bigger dream — that is not only making profits, but also working for a better, bigger, beautiful picture with sustainability, in the sense of social corporate sustainability — is a huge source of pride for me. Because I’m working not only for a brand, but also for a brand that has great values. Today, making durable clothes, using craft and long-lasting fabrics, having real natural products, recycling, having Oasi Cashmere, using fully traceable sources, being part of the value — to me, all these are even more important than many other values.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And you can achieve all this even with cashmere?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — The cashmere comes from Mongolia. We buy from specific sources, and the source sells only to Zegna. We trace the full fiber, with no interaction in between. The raw fiber arrives in Italy, and we treat the fiber internally. We do yarns, fabrics, quilting, everything with our own fiber that is fully traceable from the source. And we weave, we dip-dye the colorants, we make the garments with the best possible quality and the best sustainable mindset. This is Oasi Cashmere. So, I work for a reason.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And that’s what was used in the collaboration with The Elder Statesman?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Totally. Greg Chait is a great friend. He owns a beautiful brand and shares our values. And in the collaboration, to see Zegna through their Los Angeles eyes, we used Oasi Cashmere, which is part of this story.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You have a special connection with Los Angeles, right?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Yes. One day I wanted to visit California — this was in 1999 or 2000. I knew Los Angeles a little. And I booked the first three nights of my vacation in a place you know that doesn’t exist anymore, the Standard Hotel. It had just opened at the time. So, I landed in Los Angeles Airport and took a car that I love to rent — a big black Jeep. And I was driving to the Standard, for three nights out of 23 days, and I ended up spending 23 days there because I met people I love, an English couple. I’m still in contact with them. I have a great connection to the city because I love the energy, the vibe, the light… Every year, I go two, three, or four times to LA.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And now you’re connecting Zegna with this part of the world.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Very much so. We connected Zegna with this vibe, but it’s also interesting to see Zegna through Greg’s and Elder’s eyes. It’s like seeing our brand with the eyes of a cousin, of people who understand what we’re doing. He has a fun, bright, interesting vision.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a vision that’s also very direct. They are honest, utilitarian.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Utilitarian. Very fresh.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And comfortable.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — With bright colors. It’s a very nice moment when you see something you like for the first time. Going to see what they do in LA, going to their headquarters where they dye the knitwear by hand and where they have this beautiful old machinery, was a surprise for me. But I’m sure they were surprised as well when they visited the Zegna factory in Trivero, and they saw the craft and what we do with our own techniques and technology. So, there was that moment when my vision, Zegna’s, and our CMDSO Edoardo Zegna’s of what Elder does was very fresh and fantastic, and I’m sure it was the same when Greg saw our facility. I’m sure he said, “Wow, Zegna is different and fantastic.” So, this clash and mix were very important.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How long have you been at Zegna now?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Seven years. I rejoined Zegna in 2016.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And what are you most proud of?
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — The new silhouette, I think. I would call it “elevated utilitarian” — utilitarian garments with the best possible quality. We go back to go forward. Today, these shirt jackets over shirts, sports pants, and knitwear as underpinnings are so clean and simple because we go back to reality and to what made men really chic. In the ’40s and ’50s, after World War II, our grandfathers were wearing simple garments in a sophisticated way without embellishments. Today, we are without embellishments, and we are cleaner, more subtle but more sophisticated. So, the idea at Zegna was to take this clean, beautiful, utilitarian way and to elevate it with the best quality — the best fabrics, like Oasi Cashmere, the best tailor-made jackets and overshirts and pants… And the combination of the best craft with this vision is very peculiar. In the fashion world, a lot of brands are doing high quality, but most of the time, they’re entirely conservative. And many brands are doing beautiful styles but are not so qualitative. I think there is a space in between for extreme craft and a modern silhouette that is also wearable.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And never useless, gimmicky decoration.
ALESSANDRO SARTORI — Totally. Because we go back to the principle of making garments that are here to stay. I want you to collect your garments. Season and season after season, you are adding pieces to this block, and it’s always new and fresh. I don’t want you to give away your pieces because they look old after one season. That’s a mistake, in my vision. I’m very proud of thinking that you own garments for years and years, and eventually you give them to your son, your younger brother, or your friend, and he wears them for years. This is Zegna quality. I like the principle of building looks upon looks, like layers, like slices. You have a novelty — maybe it’s the latest jacket or the latest pants or the latest shoes, but you wear them with an older underpinning or with an older coat, and you are molding the style between young and old garments of yours. That, to me, is personality.
INTERVIEW WITH GREG CHAIT, FOUNDER OF THE ELDER STATESMAN
ALEPH MOLINARI — How did the collaboration between The Elder Statesman and Zegna come about?
GREG CHAIT — It has been almost three years since we’ve started talking. I was interested in working with Zegna because I have a deep respect for the company’s structure and history. They’re like the Intel chip of fashion. They have about 50 factories, some of the best in Italy. I love that they focus on producing locally but obviously on a much larger scale. The Zegna family has been in the business for a long time — it’s in their blood. And Alessandro Sartori grew up in it.
ALEPH MOLINARI — The collection has a very urban, casual aspect to it, a relaxed elegance. Were the looks designed in conjunction?
GREG CHAIT — Yeah. Alessandro and Bailey Hunter, our creative director, worked together, with all the teams in the background. The companies designed the looks together, and their product developers invented the construction of the garments. The collection is essentially about the timeless artisanal work that we do.
ALEPH MOLINARI — I’ve known your brand for about eight or 10 years, and the clothes are a combination of high-quality craft with an irreverence to cashmere that mixes it with more casual and street culture designs.
GREG CHAIT — That’s how I look at it. You can wear the clothes every day and anywhere. You can wear them in your day-to-day life in the city and still not be out of place if you go to the beach or to a desert, like we are in now. And they are amazing to wear. You saw the lavender suit — it’s so versatile. Cashmere fits in everywhere. In fact, quality fibers fit in everywhere.
ALEPH MOLINARI — This focus on quality and craftsmanship is also a way of moving toward more sustainability in fashion, keeping local production chains. Was this something that you’ve strived for with The Elder Statesman since the beginning?
GREG CHAIT — Absolutely. It happened by virtue of me not knowing any better when I first started doing it 15 years ago, which was the greatest blessing. I didn’t know any of the “rules”, and I wanted a certain look, but I wouldn’t ever sacrifice quality, so I began buying the finest raw materials possible. The business model is quality and craftsmanship. If I buy the best raw materials, that also means that I can pay properly for labor — and I believe that artisans and craftspeople should be paid well in order to continue making beautiful things. Today, we have a fully vertically integrated arts-and-crafts facility in
Los Angeles where we handknit, embroider, hand loom, link, and even make our own dyes.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Yes, that’s very important because the other side is fast fashion, which has eradicated a lot of craftsmanship and techniques. So, your fashion is a slow fashion. How did this ethos come about?
GREG CHAIT — It came out of the pursuit of trying to produce high-quality clothes. In the beginning, I didn’t know that artisanal and craft processes of this level didn’t really exist anymore in the United States. I also couldn’t find anyone to produce what I wanted on a larger scale, and after running into roadblocks, it became obvious that I needed to start my own workshop to knit, link, and dye. And today we’re innovating down the supply chain by manually producing the fiber and the yarn. We are even going to have a little “factory store” later this year as we love to give tours of the facility to our friends.
ALEPH MOLINARI — There’s also something ecological in high-quality garments produced by hand: you consume less. You buy a good cashmere sweater, and you don’t need any other sweater.
GREG CHAIT — That’s the point. Especially if you’re buying artisanal high quality. When your parents still have great suits that look perfect after decades, that speaks of the quality of the garment. When people come to my house and see my closet, they’re like, “What, you have almost nothing.” But I’ve got the perfect amount. Everything works.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Of course. And I think that’s an evolution of style today — to have fewer things and a clearly defined style that you keep nurturing with a few pieces.
GREG CHAIT — I couldn’t agree more. Anything that you care for and put your soul into, you animate. And it’s the same for clothes — you can transmit your energy into a garment.
ALEPH MOLINARI — By wearing it, you appropriate it, and you also transform it. That’s why sometimes you wear someone else’s coat, and you’re like, “This is not my coat.”
GREG CHAIT — Yeah. Or you wear someone else’s coat, and you’re like, “This is amazing — I’m taking this.” You want your stuff to be really stealable.
ALEPH MOLINARI — That’s a good model: “Steal this cashmere.” What’s the formula for making the brand grow? Because you can’t produce artisanal products too quickly and sell a lot of units.
GREG CHAIT — Time. Time is the formula. When I started in this industry 15 or 20 years ago, I admired companies that had been around for a long time, so I didn’t think there was an option besides a 30-year arc. So, it’s a really slow development, but it’ll come to life, and I’m not worried about things happening immediately. And that’s why I connect with Zegna. They’ve been doing it for 100 years and more.
ALEPH MOLINARI — At that level, it has an aristocratic aspect to it, in terms of passing down craft, knowledge, and values. As a Californian, are you optimistic about what technology and the future can bring?
GREG CHAIT — Not really, since I have a kid, and I see her and her friends are not so interested in technology like we were. When I was a kid, I remember thinking about the future and how cool it could look. Kids today are thinking about the planet and its health. This is the world they live in, so they have to make it better. So, on the other hand, I am optimistic that they can and will create a better future.
ALEPH MOLINARI — Yes. Our generation knew there was a problem, but it didn’t feel as urgent. Kids today grow up with a responsibility to change the planet. So, it’s not so much a question of what planet we’re giving to the kids — it’s more like what kids are we giving to the planet now. It’s about what values we are going to transmit to the future generations so they can change the world.
GREG CHAIT — Yes, and the irony is that the technology that’s going to take us down is the same technology we have to use to fix the planet. And it can be fixed, in my opinion, through collective learning. What we learned during the pandemic is that if we stop industry a bit, and conserve and protect, nature can come right back to life. So, we can definitely do it.
[Table of contents]
editor’s letterRead the article
by Daniel Pinchbeck
by Paul B. Preciado
cover #1 cindy shermanRead the article
best of the season f/w 23-24
photography by Olivier Zahm
art or the possibility of the impossible
by Alain Badiou
cover #2 milla jovovich in gucci f/w 2023-24
photography by Cameron McCool
evgeny morozovRead the article
cover #3 aylah peterson in prada f/w 2023-24
photography by Reto Schmid
cover #4 john giornoRead the article
photography by Ethan Skaates
mariko mori, the unseen power of energetic fieldsRead the article
cover #5 margaret qualley in chanel f/w 2023-24
photography by Jeremy Everett
de wain valentineRead the article
cover #6 zegna x the elder statesman f/w 2023-24
photography by Olivier Zahm
interview by Oliver Zahm & Aleph Molinari
what climate collapse asks of us
by Bayo Akomolafe
cover #7 gabbriette in guess usa f/w 2023-24
photography by Richard Kern
cover #8 minttu vesala in balenciaga winter 2023
photography by Juergen Teller
cover #9 mariana arias in dior cruise 2024
photography by Olivier Zahm
cover #10 saskia de brauw in fendi f/w 2023-24
photography by Brett Lloyd
cover #11 caroline polachek in givenchy F/W 2023-24
photography by Kira Bunse
cover #12 carsten höllerRead the article
is there an angel in the ecosystem?
by Val Plumwood
anthea hamilton “mash up”Read the article
interview by Aleph Molinari
charles rayRead the article
cover #13 louis vuitton pre-fall 2023
photography by Takashi Homma
interview by Olivier Zahm & Aleph Molinari
hinako, the rubber queen of tokyo
interview by Bobbi Salvör Menuez
cover #14 hari nef
photography by Steven Klein
hour of the wolf
photography by Robi Rodriguez
the idiots revolution
by Byung-Chul Han
cover #15 melvil poupaud in dior men f/w 2023-24
photography by Ola Rindal
cover #16 marie-agnès gillot and charlotte dauphin in valentino f/w 2023-24
photography by Andrea Spotorno
cover #17 loro piana f/w 2023-24
photography by Dario Catellani
cover #18 emmanuelle lucianiRead the article
cover #19 sascha rajasalu in saint laurent f/w 2023-24
photography by Esther Theaker
interview by Daniel Pinchbeck
interview by Daniel Pinchbeck
“what can the body do?” with georgia bryan
photography by Dana Boulos
fashion factionRead the article
cover #20 moncler karakorum f/w 2023-24
photography by Henrik Purienne
find each other
By The Invisible Committee
cover #21 dash snowRead the article