The artisanal approach to Ermenegildo Zegna menswear begins with the selection of rare and precious fibres from far-off lands like Australia and South Africa. The Italian luxury house goes to great lengths to select and produce fabrics, supporting textile evolution through innovation.

ACHILL Sheep_01A good number of traits distinguish luxury fashion houses from mass producers of fashion. Aside from the fact that luxury brands are associated with both exclusive and luxurious offerings, they spare no effort or expense when it comes to crafting their products. In fact, the practice of ethical sourcing and production is the single most defining factor in the world of luxury, now more than ever. Ermenegildo Zegna, the last word in high-end menswear and accessories, is among the leading names in this legion of luxury businesses that subscribes to the sustainable and ethical school of thought.

The Italian fashion house had its beginnings in 1910 as the Lanificio Zegna wool mill in Trivero. Even today, as Lanificio Zegna continues to operate out of the same Trivero mill located 700 metres above sea level in the mountainous region that surrounds the city of Biella, Zegna Fabrics remains one of Italy’s most renowned exports. The Zegna group, still a family-owned enterprise, has stayed true to the vision of its founder, Ermenegildo Zegna. Which explains why the company unwaveringly strives for the ethical production of the most exclusive fabrics through innovation, and the sourcing of the best quality natural fibres directly from their markets of origin. Whether it concerns the selection of mohair fibre, the finest woollen fibres from the prized Australian Merino sheep, or even the rarest fibres produced by the vicuna, Zegna leads the pack in the luxury fabric market and is noted for being an important buyer of some of the world’s most precious fibres.

To put this into perspective, Zegna is the world’s biggest purchaser of kid mohair. The fashion house uses this luxurious fibre, characterised by its shine, pleasing handle, smoothness, elasticity, comfort, strength, and resiliency that makes it the most crease-proof natural fibre, in both knitted and woven fabric production. The fibre, acknowledged as one of the most ancient fibres known to man, is produced by the Angora goat, whose name is derived from the Turkish capital of Ankara where it has been bred for over two millennia. While determining the value of mohair fibres, qualities such as fineness, lustre, uniformity, contamination, length, style and character are of utmost importance. However, over time, South Africa emerged, and continues to reign, as the long-time leader — both in terms of quantity and quality — in the global production of this fibre.

South African mohair comes with the guarantee of outstanding lustre, cleanness, uniformity and the absence of impurities. Finer fabrics are made of kid mohair, or the fibre from the animal’s first clip that’s executed in the first six months. Some of Zegna’s finest batches with smooth, shiny transparent white fibres between 27 and 30 microns weighing barely a kilogram come out of this process.  The thing about mohair is that while it ranks high as a beautiful raw material, it is also a very natural and renewable resource that provides a sustainable production chain between animal and human. The Angora goat is single coated with fibres that grow continuously throughout the year.

Simply put, the act of harnessing these precious fibres that will be woven into an elegant Zegna fabric and then stitched into, say, a Zegna coat or jacket, results in a positive contribution to the long-term prosperity of many regions in South Africa. The Zegna Group and Mohair SA have been encouraging and supporting the contribution of the South African mohair industry since 1970 with launch of the first edition of the Ermenegildo Zegna Mohair Trophy. The benefits of this annual competition that selects and awards the finest quality of this fibre are manifold. Not only does Zegna reaffirm the importance of this superior quality raw material by purchasing the top three winning bales, but it also demonstrates its support for the noble South African raw material. This, in turn, encourages producers to deliver the highest standards of kid mohair fibres while adopting the most sustainable growing processes.

Another raw material extensively used by Zegna is Australia’s fine and super-fine wool produced by the country’s prized Merino sheep. The storied Italian luxury house’s relationship with this fundamental raw material goes back to more than a century ago, when its founder recognised the unique characteristics of pure, high-quality wool. He would go on to cultivate the expertise required to master the craft of turning raw wool fibres into flawless, fine and superfine wool fabrics. Even today, the artisanal process of turning wool into yarn, yarn into fabric, and fabric into exquisite Zegna couture remains largely unaltered.

In the case of Merino wool, Zegna manages the entire process by first sourcing the wool fibres, which guarantees an unparalleled level of quality. Among the list of parameters for classifying wools, the fineness of the fibre is an indisputably, key distinguisher. The most prestigious wool, superfine, comes with a fineness of 19.5 micron, or several thousandths of a millimetre. Every year, Lanificio Zegna handpicks and buys the best batches of this prized raw material through a series of auctions in Australia. The endless list of rigorous requirements includes fineness, quality and staple strength, achieved by the painstaking process of touching, evaluating and testing each bale. It’s no wonder then that the luxury house remains a benchmark in the marketplace, and that auction catalogues have been known to describe some wool lots as ‘Zegna Quality’. Furthermore, just like Zegna rewards and supports the efforts of South Africa’s mohair industry, it has also been awarding the Australian woolgrowers’ commitment to quality since 1963. The coveted Ermenegildo Zegna Extrafine Wool Trophy is an annual effort by the Italian luxury group to evolve the fineness and excellence of this multifaceted natural fibre.

Susan Rowbottom, Paolo Zegna, David RowbottomEven after the raw material has been handpicked, the absolute control of each process continues right up to the delivery of the Zegna fabric to Zegna’s master tailors. All fabric manufacturing at Lanificio Zegna is done in an artisanal and industrial manner that takes into account the unique peculiarities of each fabric. A single fabric may even undergo 20-30 phases before it reaches the finishing stage. Fabric production at the Trivero mill starts with the washing and combing of each bale of raw wool, and proceeds to the dyeing process, the spinning and coning of woollen fibres, the warping process of wool into cloth, and the weaving of fabrics. Zegna’s fabric production process even extends to strict quality control of each fabric, and finishing stages that naturally enhance the characteristics of the fabric. Intriguingly, the last stage includes the process of teaseling, which uses a natural dried Teasel — a flowering plant known for its prickly stems and leaves — to groom the cloth and gently raise the precious fibres to create a soft and smooth handle. It is a process that has been used for centuries to date.

Four generations down the line, the Zegna family continues to the lead the success in the world’s finest fabrics through innovations and modern technology that back up artisan craftsmanship. It is this scrupulous balance of science with nature and craftsmanship with technology that has driven Lanificio Zegna to pioneer sophisticated men’s fabrics to become softer, lighter, more refined and with an improved performance and functionality. Distributed across the world, Ermenegildo Zegna fabrics are marked with a red seal as a guarantee of exclusivity, luxury and style. In February this year, at the 45th Anniversary celebrations of the Ermenegildo Zegna Mohair Trophy in Johannesburg, 15 numbered suits featuring the exclusive Mohair Trophy Selection from the winning South African mohair bales of the 2015 trophy were unveiled. The limited-edition superfine 100% mohair fabric was a reminder of just how resolute Zegna is when it comes to interpreting noble fibres by enhancing their natural characteristics and versatility. It also bore testimony to Zegna’s exacting production methods.