April 30 2010
Lucia van der Post
When it comes to clothing, some of us are too easily dazzled by what we see. It matters, of course, but what we learn as life wends its merry way is that fabric matters, too. In fact, the older I get, the more I find that it matters – how it feels on the body, whether it’s good-tempered, is light, wears well. Which is where the Italian menswear company Ermenegildo Zegna comes in, for fabric is at the core of its story. It all began back in 1910 when it opened its first woollen mill. Though these days it is best known for its stylish line of clothing, its textile business is even bigger, turning out about two million metres of fabric a year, much of it for its own collection but also for most of the big international menswear brands.
One of the things that makes Zegna’s textile business special is that it does everything itself, short of breeding its own sheep and goats and growing its own cotton. The company buys and chooses the raw materials, weaves and finishes the yarns and then finally makes up the clothing. But the search is always on for innovative new yarns and mixtures, for technical advances and, above all, for lightness, for tracking down the fleeces with the finest wool to yield the lightest cloth.
Sharp readers will have spotted that this year is Zegna’s 100th anniversary, and it is celebrating in two ways: first, by weaving 20 lengths of the world’s finest fabrics from the best of the winners of the Vellus Aureum Trophy (about which more later), and second, by donating 50 per cent of the retail prices of the suits made from these lengths to one of the Fondazione Zegna’s many charities.
As for the Vellus Aureum Trophy, or Golden Fleece Award, this was launched in 2002 to encourage wool-breeders in Australia and New Zealand (which have the sheep breeds yielding the finest wool) to produce very fine fleeces. It is given each year to the best fleeces, which have to be of 13.9 microns or finer (to put that in context, a human hair usually measures between 50 and 60 microns). The fabric for the cut lengths being woven to celebrate the company’s centenary will be even finer. It will be woven from wool which has an average fineness of 11.1 microns – almost the finest ever seen (in 2003 a fleece with a 10.3 micron was recorded).
It scarcely needs saying that these cloths will yield fabric of almost unparalleled lightness. These lengths will be enough for 20 suits. The fabric will be a double-faced wool, navy pin-stripe on one side, plain navy on the other so the customer can choose. The Jacquard lining (second picture) will feature the selvedge pattern, woven with “Centennial Ermenegildo Zegna, 1910 to 2010” and five stars, a reminder of this big year in Zegna’s history.
The suits (first picture), of course, will be made to measure, and the horn buttons can come with the client’s name embossed on them. On top of that, the customer gets to choose which of seven of the charities supported by the Fondazione Zegna will get the 50 per cent of the retail price that the company has promised to donate. The suits will cost £14,500 each and will be sold in Zegna’s flagship stores around the world, plus Harrods, and it will really be a matter of first come first served. So those wanting one of the lightest, most special hand-made suits ever made had better get their skates on.