A British expat stationed at the helm of Z Zegna—the younger, more experimental arm of 104-year-old Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna—creative director Paul Surridge seems to approach each season with a mix of minimalistic precision and scientific wonderment. Through it all, he pays homage to the house’s dignified history (and makes rigorous use of Lanificio Zegna, the family’s state-of-the-art fabric mill).
The result on Surridge’s spring 2014 runway was a yin and yang of futuristic yet sophisticated evening wear juxtaposed with a painterly mix of daytime neutrals (as seen in the behind-the-scenes photo above). On our own shelves, Surridge’s vision takes shape in sublimely cut suits in innovative fabrics, poised for a night out, and refined T-shirts and polos that raise the bar on summer weekends, without breaking a sweat.
Keep reading for a Q&A with Z Zegna creative director Paul Surridge himself.
MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What inspired the spring ’14 runway collection?
PAUL SURRIDGE: “The collection was inspired by the concept of contrasting opposites, two worlds colliding—the idea of collaging things together that don’t necessarily belong together. Deconstructed tailoring and the development of new alternative evening wear featured heavily, and we focused on a young, urban attitude with a rebellious streak for styling. Patterns and textures were inspired by a personal visit to the Dia:Beacon museum in New York, where I drew inspiration from the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt.”
Did the inspiration of Sol LeWitt find its way from the runway to any pieces we’re currently carrying at Nordstrom? What is it about LeWitt’s work that inspires you? Any favorite pieces?
“Yes, some of the T-shirt prints and the wavy textures found on the ties were inspired by his work. I was immediately drawn to his drawings in the Dia—the sheer size and scale of them, with this intelligent and mathematical approach to art. What I found inspiring was that he himself designed the formula, or gave instructions to a collective group of artists, sometimes students, who would then complete and finish his work. In many cases, he himself did not actually do the art. However, his techniques and methods were revolutionary at the time, in a scene that was in the midst of a creative explosion. He was heavily criticized by the same art scene and critics, yet he was dedicated to his vision, which required extreme discipline. I personally respect this, and acknowledge that his work changed the perception and face of contemporary art. My favorite piece is Wall Drawing #1085 in the Dia museum, upstate New York, situated in Beacon. It’s a wonderful place to visit, spend time browsing through the various rooms, and eventually end up in the book shop, which is a must.”
The first portion of your spring ’14 show focused on a forward-thinking approach to evening wear. What salient points can mean reading at home take away from this? What should men bear in mind for a night out—both a formal one, as well as a more casual evening with a date or with friends?
“The first thing to note, is that the fashion show is often advanced and forward-thinking, as it serves its purpose for the industry at large, including editors and stylists, as a platform to present something new and innovative.
“[On a night out], the most important thing to remember is that comfort and confidence is paramount. Never wear something that you feel uncomfortable in, or something that feels awkward. ‘Be your own style’ is what the show was trying to say, so find what works for you, and do not imitate someone else’s style, as this can make you look stiff. The key item is the jacket, either constructed for formal events or unconstructed for casual—or mixed, if you prefer. Test your clothes before you go out, make sure you have worn them, that you know how you feel in them; this will make you feel comfortable and therefore feel confident. Don’t be afraid to dress up; a well-dressed man never goes unnoticed. Simplicity works better for formal events, so a great white shirt gives a graphic element to the look—timelessly elegant. For informal events, layer up the look, so you have more styling options. The rules are pretty much the same, but I find here again a great shirt, jean or chino and smart pair of shoes can give you an extra punch.”
What are some things you enjoy doing yourself on a night out? What are a few favorite places in Milan, where you live, that our readers might want to visit when traveling there?
“I enjoy meeting friends and spending more intimate times in houses for dinners or lunches. I don’t have much down-time, so eating out is a luxury, and meeting friends is a highlight. Milan is a complex city that appears to be one thing on the surface, but in actual fact is a very different city when you get to know it. It has changed incredibly fast, largely due to the Expo that starts next year. I love Villa Necchi on Via Mozart for the garden lunch or tea on Sundays. The new restaurant Ceresio 7 is really cool for group dinners and weekends. La Libera in Brera is a great place to dine. So too is La Vecchia Latteria on Via San Marco.”
What sets a Z Zegna suit or tuxedo apart from the pack? What makes it special?
“First, it’s a Zegna suit. To me, that makes all the difference. We have a great, modern cut that’s slimming and designed to fit many shapes and works on different frames. It’s a suit that not only looks good today, but will also look great in ten years.”
What is the role of fabrication in Z Zegna, and why is that important to the brand? What are some unexpected fabrics or details that are a part of the current Nordstrom selection?
“We work and concentrate on various fabric developments and textile innovation throughout the season. This is inherent in the DNA of the brand. Fabric gives you the drape, the cut, and the spirit of each suit. It’s the soul of a garment, and will allow you to stand away from the pack. I believe you have selected our mohair-blend suit, which is one of my favorites [above right]. The blend is anti-crease—we call it our travel suit. Again, timelessly elegant and young in spirit.”
The latter half of your spring ’14 show focused on day-wear. On Nordstrom.com currently, the new T-shirts and polo shirts immediately caught our eye. What tips do you have for men at home for dressing in hot weather this season—how to look good without over-heating?
“Definitely layer up. This allows maximum flexibility to remove or add layers pending the temperature. T-shirts, light sweaters or cardigans enable options. Jackets and lightweight outerwear that have wind-block performance also help protect against the elements in early spring. Natural fibers usually work better in heat and tropical conditions. Silk blends allow fabrics to remain light, whereas pure cottons can be heavier. Look for silk, cotton and linen on the composition label. Most tropical wools will be trans-seasonal.”
[Z Zegna designer Paul Surridge takes a bow,
following the brand's spring 2014 show in Milan last June.]
SHOP: Z ZEGNA