Best of the Best 2005: Men's Wardrobes
Rapid growth and prolific experimentation often can work to a company’s disadvantage. Ermenegildo Zegna, though, has learned from its zealous drive to diversify that sometimes the best design ideas can rise from the ashes of others.
When the company launched its Zegna Sport line in 1999 as an upscale alternative to Nike, the Trivero, Italy, fabric- and suitmaker quickly discovered that athletic wear was not its game. Likewise, its short-lived Napoli Couture collection consisting mostly of hand-sewn suits may have been in line with Zegna’s rich tailoring history, but Americans were not ready to embrace the label’s European-style, razor-thin silhouettes.
However, Zegna has found a way to integrate the best elements from those sport and sartorial forays into its latest signature collection. Zegna Sport evolved into an active wear– inspired sportswear assortment, rather than a separate collection of genuine athletic gear, to harmonize better with, and even layer with, the company’s tailored clothing. Meanwhile, the brand’s top-of-the-line tailored clothing collection, renamed simply Couture, has been reconceived with less avant-garde styling and with bespoke-style details such as hand-sewn seams, pockets, and buttonholes. Although not completely custom, Couture is clearly a notch above Zegna’s standard Sartorial label machine-made suits. In addition, to address the fit needs of the large-scale American man, Zegna has introduced American Sportswear, its first comprehensive sportswear collection—comprising reversible leather jackets, suede shirts, jeans, knitwear, and cotton sweaters—available exclusively in the United States.
Zegna’s evolution from a prestige suitmaker to a complete men’s luxury brand was further advanced by its 2003 launch of footwear through a joint venture with Salvatore Ferragamo. By pairing its own designs with Ferragamo’s technical expertise, Zegna has developed an impressive shoe assortment, culminating in an exclusive collection made of supple embossed calfskin and exotic crocodile that is limited to 999 pairs.
The family-owned company, which also is one of Italy’s leading textile manufacturers, often sets aside its best cloths for its own labels. This year, those included Micronsphere, a treated wool suit fabric that renders the garment virtually stain resistant, and Shetlair, a proprietary blend of South African mohair, Chinese cashmere, and fine Australian merino wool that offers the look of Shetland wool without the coarseness and weight.
Zegna’s status as a completely vertical operation that produces its own fabrics, makes its own clothing, and operates its own stores enables it to maintain quality at every stage of the process.
Ermenegildo Zegna, 888.880.3462, www.zegna.com
Hot Over the Collar
Even after Fabio Borrelli lured top tailor Edmundo Marino away from Kiton, skeptics doubted his ability to produce handmade suits reflecting the finesse and quality of his company’s renowned Luigi Borrelli shirts. Suitmakers with years of tailoring experience often have dabbled successfully in the world of shirtmaking, but rarely, if ever, has the reverse been true. Indeed, it took several seasons for Borrelli to prove it was equal to the challenge of developing a full wardrobe encompassing tailored clothing, sportswear, and accessories.
Now, less than five years after launching its tailored clothing collection, Borrelli is considered among the best suitmakers. Unlike those of more established makers, Borrelli’s suits are constructed almost entirely by hand (only the side seams on its jackets are sewn by machine) and come as close to bespoke as a brand can offer. And while other manufacturers have spent years rethinking and streamlining the sport coat to make it lighter and more comfortable, Borrelli used its shirtmaker’s experience to perfect the deconstructed jacket. Its new Linosa model is rendered in lightweight wool and cashmere blends reminiscent of the finest blazers, but it is constructed like a Borrelli shirt, without any lining or shoulder pads that typically give a sport coat its shape.
This same ingenuity and abundance of handwork helps elevate Borrelli’s rapidly expanding fashion repertoire—from jersey sport shirts and cashmere knitwear to neckwear, cuff links, footwear, and, most recently, formalwear. Even casual slacks, which do not require the same sartorial precision as shirts and jackets, are finished with hand-sewn linings, belt loops, and pocket flaps, among other artisanal touches.
Luigi Borrelli, 212.752.0772, www.luigiborrelli.com
The addition of colorful jeans and lightweight dress footwear to Kiton’s fashion lineup is the latest example of the Neapolitan company’s growth beyond its tailored clothing roots. The process began with the purchase and subsequent retooling of a leather outerwear factory. Through this acquisition, Kiton proved it could be just as adept at meeting the rigorous sewing and technical demands of outerwear as it is at making delicate hand-sewn suits and sport coats. Kiton also brought production of shirts and slacks in-house, introducing handwork on handkerchief-rolled side seams and bottoms of shirts, and on the embroidered buttonholes of dress pants—places where only machines had gone before. Inventive neckwear, plush cashmere knitwear, and custom luggage also have been graced with Kiton’s hand-finished touch.
“The man who wears a handmade suit is looking for the same quality in the rest of his wardrobe,” explains U.S. agent Massimo Bizzocchi, noting that diversification has enabled Kiton to fill the quality void in men’s casual wardrobes. It also has emboldened the company to become more innovative. Kiton’s new AD jacket, for example, has a slightly narrower shoulder, a raised button stance, and higher and wider notch lapels that impart a cleaner, smoother appearance to the company’s classic soft suit. Another adaptation is handmade outerwear designed to reverse from leather to a waterproof fabric in inclement weather, or from solid to plaid for greater versatility.
Kiton, 212.486.5250, www.kiton.it
Never content simply to attach its label to a new product category, Brioni waits until it has something special to offer and then develops new businesses—from fine-gauge knitwear and supple leather and shearling outerwear to silk lounge pajamas, dress hosiery, bags, and accessories. This year, the company is emphasizing its new Sportivo jacket that combines the tailoring of a sport coat with the comfort of a cardigan. Another new line of cashmere/wool knitwear is made of twisted mouliné (or mélange) yarns that are weighty enough to double as outerwear pieces, creating an additional hybrid item that will remain fashionable for seasons to come.
Whether Brioni is producing suits or sportswear, its focus is always on the wants, not necessarily the needs, of the affluent man. As chief executive Umberto Angeloni explains, “We are only making what’s right for the deepest pockets.” This strategy produces the occasional sartorial gaffe, but oddities such as an astrakhan tuxedo or python-skin leisure suit have not tarnished Brioni’s track record. And often, because of its approach, Brioni propels itself ahead of the fashion curve. Consider that dress shirts with white cuffs and collars, banded collars on linen sport shirts, ties made from reverse silk fabrics, fine-gauge merino wool knitwear, and suits cut from exclusive Escorial wool all carried the Brioni label long before gaining wider acceptance this year.
Brioni, 888.778.8775, www.brioni.com