By the time a suit ends up hanging in an Ermenegildo Zegna store in Milan or Mumbai or Moscow, more than 500 hands will have touched it. An in-store exhibition takes you through this journey, starting from the exquisite premium natural fibres straight through to the process of garment finishing, shown live as we view one of Zegna’s expert tailors at work.
All this is displayed within the most important Zegna stores worldwide, through a schematic, clearly written process fixed on Plexiglas, which also includes representations of several physical elements.
Zegna hands start their work by shearing the wool, weaving it, bundling it, dyeing it, knitting it, ironing it, cutting it, sewing it, ironing it again (and again), picking at it with thistles from the cardoon plant, and examining it with attentive eyes and a tiny needle to fix any tiny problems that these same hands may have left.
We first look at how wool becomes yarn and then cloth, a process that takes 60 or so working days; a dozen different hands and machines work to produce these 2-million metres of fabric.
Next, we discover that the cloth of the suit has already made an epic journey, having originated from a ewe near Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, or a cashmere goat in Inner Mongolia, or a vicuña in the Andes.
More specifically, the exhibit shows how a white fibre is transformed into a coloured thread and how the fibers are combed and recombed multiple times to obtain a clearer, more uniform and regular fibre. Machines then spin the wool and workers pile it into old-fashioned wooden crates.
Next, men and women with the medieval title of “master-dyer” — modern chemists who have spent decades practising their craft — oversee the mixing of colours and the pouring of the dyes into large, stainless-steel machines where the yarn waits at the bottom. The higher the quality of the yarn, the lighter the colour of the dye, as good wool needs only a delicate, non-aggressive tinting. Workers then string the dyed yarn onto a machine that holds it like a giant spider’s web over their heads and spins it onto huge cylinders, creating the warp of the fabric.
Rows of looms weave the threads into fabric. It almost looks as if a thousand invisible knitters are flashing their needles amid a thunderous noise and, in fact, this is not far from wrong.
There is no automatic way to set up the loom. Someone has to position each of the 6 000 knots on the beam that makes the weft. By now, fabric is beginning to emerge: an overlay of stripes, plaids, and checks enlivening the conventional background of the brown and grey of men’s suiting. Huge rolls of fabric, complete with the Zegna name on the selvage, the edge of the material, are now ready for finishing.
In Trivero, Piedmont, Zegna turns wool into cloth, and then sends it to the artisanal suit factory at Stabio, on the Swiss side of the Italian border, where the cloth becomes a suit. What is thought to be simple is actually difficult, and what is thought to be done by machine is basically done by people, at a sophisticated level.
The best way to make a suit that fits is to construct it from a lot of little pieces. A Zegna suit consists of 100 pieces; the lining alone contains 12. A buttonhole takes careful cutting and close-in stitching. No machine can do precise work better than a person.
THE MAKING OF A SUITRaw Materials
Wool can store up to 30% of its weight without becoming damp. Wool, in other words, is smart. That’s why suits are made out of wool.
Merino wool is used in Trofeo, High Performance, and 15mil15, which is available in a silk blend for high-lustre garments.
The crops are washed, combed, spun, dyed, and warped to create fabrics boasting exceptional softness.
There are many, many tests Zegna applies to the garments before they are allowed to be finished.