Anna Zegna: Something beautiful is always ethical


Anna Zegna: Something beautiful is always ethical

New Delhi: India’s people and culture have had an enormous influence on the philosophical musings and learnings of Anna Zegna. Granddaughter of Italian art patron and philanthropist Ermenegildo Zegna, founder of the Italian luxury brand of the same name, Anna Zegna is president of the Zegna Foundation (Fondazione Zegna) and the general manager of Oasi Zegna. Fondazione Zegna is based in Trivero in Italy which has Casa Zegna, a historical archive and cultural centre, and Oasi Zegna, a freely accessible “open-air laboratory” covering over 100 sq. km. It focuses on relationships between people, mountain culture and nature. Among the Zegna Foundation’s sustainable projects with non-profit organizations across the world are the Care & Share Foundation in Andhra Pradesh. It provides education and care for underprivileged children while Nina’s Home, in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, is a support centre for HIV-positive children and AIDS orphans.

The most influential European luxury brands now invest in architectural restoration and philanthropic activities. They also assume an ecologically responsible role. In this context, Zegna, which has promoted such issues for decades has become a thought leader. Over Skype and by email, Anna Zegna spoke about her karmic connect with India and how fabric development at Zegna follows social developments. Edited excerpts:

Now that so many other luxury brands engage with sustainability and restoration, does it put Zegna in a leadership role?

For Zegna it’s not a matter of a trend but a mindset my grandfather believed in ever since he established the company, and that has become part of our DNA. For us, the growth of the business always goes along with the growth of the community.

How do you plan to distinguish the Zegna Foundation’s work from numerous such projects around the world?

What separates us from others is Fondazione Zegna. The family foundation we created in 2000 is totally independent from the business. We carry out several activities in social and cultural fields with a focus on the conservation of the environment, sustainable development of local communities, support for medical and scientific research, and educational and training programmes for young people. We foster daily sustainable practices within the business environment such as an advanced welfare policy, the use of renewable energy sources in our wool mill, and the use of 100% FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified packaging. We recently opened a new global store in London, which perfectly embodies our commitment to environmental well-being in terms of its eco-sustainability; the building has also been certified according to the BREEAM (the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings) code.

What have your major takeaways as a person, as a woman, been from your experience with Care & Share in Andhra Pradesh?

Care & Share is certainly very dear to me not just as the president but mostly as a woman and as a mother. I am emotionally involved in this project because its goal is not only to improve the quality of life of the local community but to offer a future to their children by developing their inner potential. In a society such as India, with a large number of young people in need of every kind of profession, an improvement of the quality of life begins with education. We focus on offering primary and secondary education to the younger children, ensure they can continue their path by giving them the possibility of learning a profession or enrolling in university according to their talents. I am aware that this is a long-term project and the results are not always immediate, but am certain that what we are doing today will make a difference in someone else’s life tomorrow.

Why do you think philanthropy has become part of the luxury conversation?

We inherited a global and very successful business founded on core values such as accountability, authenticity, innovation, passion and mutual respect. For our grandfather more than 100 years ago, giving back meant helping and supporting the local community of Trivero; for us it now means fostering projects on a global scale and expanding our horizons.We have always tried to go beyond beautiful fabrics and clothing by giving a more profound meaning to our existence with passion and dedication.

I have always been fascinated by the ancient Greek saying of Kalos kagathos, which implies that something beautiful is always ethical. At Zegna, we believe that beauty and ethics are inextricably linked; beauty is wrongly perceived as superficial but actually, in order to make something beautiful, you need attention, craftsmanship and a very high quality. Beauty and its pursuit are also a very strong inspiration for mankind.

Are Zegna’s fashion and luxury collections also drawn from the same inspirational base?

Ours is a history founded upon natural fibres and materials that we have constantly evolved to anticipate the needs of our clients and the changes of their lifestyle. Because of their quality, our products are timeless and also “sustainable” in time. All fabrics produced at our wool mill in Trivero respect environmental standards and nature is a great inspiration for our continuous research in textiles: just think of the thousands of colours you see in nature that we try to reproduce, or the extreme flexibility and adaptability of nature that can be an example to follow while designing our innovative and highly performing fabrics. For instance, one of our fabrics, “Elements”, has an innovative “pine cone effect” which regulates body temperature by “opening” and “closing” pores in the fabric, emulating a natural mechanism.

Also, our fabric innovation follows social developments with a constant attention to the environment; all our products are a synthesis of functionality, aesthetics and innovation. An example of how we adapt to the lifestyle and needs of today’s man are fabrics such as “Trofeo”, a trans-seasonal fabric, or “Cool Effect”, made of pure merino wool but finished with an innovative technique that enables dark fabrics to maintain a significantly lower temperature, making them perfect for warmer climates.

What is a “noble fibre” in the Zegna design vocabulary? Are such fibres specially marketed to evoke the right response?

Noble fibre is simply another way to name raw materials such as merino wool, cashmere, mohair or vicuna, and is a synonym for the highest possible quality in the world of fibres. The term has always been part of our vocabulary as my grandfather decided to work only with the best fibres in the world and to source them from their countries of origin. In order to strengthen the bond with such countries and encourage producers to deliver the highest quality of noble fibres, we give trophies every year to award the finest quality raw materials that we then purchase to create our exclusive fabrics.

You have spoken in the past about your karmic connect with India, your early experiences at the Brahmakumari ashram in Mount Abu, your sync with yoga. Has that thought evolved over the years?

Thanks to India, I’ve understood that we are all One. My connection with India has grown into a higher sense of belonging and unity, no matter where I am and whom I’m with. I’ve tried to bring my personal experience with yoga into the world: today in Oasi Zegna you can enjoy several yoga seminars that take place both indoors and inside the beautiful Smiling Forest with the aim of giving to everyone the possibility of connecting with nature. What I wanted to do was to turn my very personal experience into something I could share with everyone.

What kind of people does Oasi Zegna attract? Regular tourists or those sensitive to environmental concerns?

Oasi Zegna is linked to the environment. It was created in 1993 to protect and enhance the mountain territory surrounding Trivero that was reforested by my grandfather in the 1930s. Oasi Zegna is a mountain habitat that attracts all kinds of people thanks to different programmes and approaches. What we do, however, is to offer the visitor a learning experience regarding the environment and the biodiversity of the mountain, and our hope is that visiting the Oasi provides not only the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscape and activities, such as trekking, skiing, etc., but to become more conscious of the environment we live in.

What is your personal favourite in textiles?

I like all fabrics that we produce at Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna but am particularly fond of Vellus Aureum since it represents the highest quality woollen fabric we have, and is a testament of the importance raw materials play in the Zegna universe.