Family values according to Gildo Zegna
Welcome back to Dubai. Where have you just flown in from?
Gildo Zegna: I’ve just spent a few days in Macao and Hong Kong.
How was it?
GZ: It was good. Macao is like Las Vegas. People go there to gamble and shop. If they win big, then they spend more!
Aside from the gambling, do you see any similarities between those markets and Dubai?
GZ: They are both important luxury markets with serious amounts of spending power. One of the big similarities is the ‘buy now, wear now’ attitude. In Europe or North America, what we buy is dictated by the seasons, but in the Arabian Gulf and Hong Kong that is not the case as you have pieces that carry throughout the year. If you think that Dubai is just a tourist market, then you are very wrong.
Zegna has been long-renowned for its high-quality tailoring, but you have led the move into also producing more casual wear. Why is that?
GZ: Ultimately, it is so we can attract new customers. I believe that men are usually more brand-loyal than women when it comes to shopping, so in menswear it is smart to rely on loyalty. But even though we pride ourselves on retaining our customers, you have to continue to add new ones too. In the Gulf, our customer base tends to be younger, so offering more accessible products, such as accessories or Zegna-licensed fragrances, will help introduce us to a new customer. We also put a stress on gifting and travel items, as that is a way to introduce people to the brand. Once someone knows the brand better, they might start opening up their Zegna portfolio. Now, more than ever, luxury is about lifestyle, so as a luxury brand we want to add those little items to help grow that.
Why is your fragrance department licensed out rather than being done in-house?
GZ: You can’t be a specialist in everything. We know that other companies are better equipped at it than we would be, especially in terms of global distribution. I believe that if it’s not the core of our brand then there is nothing wrong with teaming up with a specialist that is as respected as your company.
Speaking of the core of the brand, what is at the heart of Zegna?
GZ: There are three things that we base our company on: family, quality and Italian. When I say ‘Italian’, I don’t mean it in a geographical sense — it’s the style. It’s the way the product talks to the customer, and that’s something that I think Italians do differently to others.
The company is still proudly independent. What benefits does that give you?
GZ: It gives us flexibility to try different things. I don’t think it’s a matter of being transparent or not, I think we run the business as if it were public anyway. I don’t think there’s any particular reason to consider going public right now, as long as we continue to create the resources and the family stays united.
How deep do you delve into the business?
GZ: I am very involved. I think you have to be. It’s hard to take big decisions if you don’t go out there and meet the people, see what’s going on and understand the development of the competition. It’s especially important in this part of the world. Asia makes up about 50 percent of our business and therefore I need to have the insight of market specialists so I can make the best decisions. The cost of business today is tremendous, so making a mistake can be very costly. I find human contact, and dealing with things in person is key to making the right choices.
Zegna tightly controls its production process, and, famously, even owns the mills and farms where the materials are made. How key is that to the success of the company?
GZ: Hugely important. In Italian we describe it as running a filièra — a long thread. What that means is that from the sheep in Australia — where we buy our superfine elegant wool from our own farm — to the services we provide in our stores, including our made-to-measure programme,
we can maintain a consistent level of luxury. Yes, it is a high-maintenance process that requires a lot of investment, and involves around 7,000 people, but it does set us apart from others. Could we run Zegna differently? Probably, but it would not be the same. Being able to create our own fabrics and develop our own innovations means that we have exclusivity, and that’s what makes people come into Zegna.
The textile is king.
GZ: Absolutely. We believe that the phrase ‘Made in Zegna’ is more important than ‘Made in Italy’, because most of the industry is made in Italy! We offer something more. Although they might look similar, each blazer we make is different: in weight, in colour shade, in the detail that is used and in style. To me this is luxury.
How many suits do you have?
GZ: Suits? About a hundred. I organise them by style, or weight. Sometimes I’ll pull out an older one and wear it because fashion comes back around. Fashion and fit may change, but style never does.