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The interior of the newly expanded Ermenegildo Zegna flagship on Michigan Avenue.

Ermenegildo Zegna Group CEO Gildo Zegna.

The exterior of the renovated Chicago store evokes Ermenegildo Zegna’s renowned textiles.

Looks are from Ermenegildo Zegna’s fall/winter 2013 collection.

Man of the Cloth

Gildo Zegna, CEO of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, talks shop on the family business and Chicago style.

They say it’s lonely at the top, but not so for Gildo Zegna. As a member of the fourth generation to hold the reigns of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group founded by his grandfather more than a century ago, Zegna oversees a global fashion empire encompassing more than 500 stores and the very textile mills that weave the house’s famed suiting fabrics (and those for other big-name brands like Tom Ford and Gucci). “Zegna is very unique in that we are a completely vertical company,” says Zegna. “We control the entire production process from sourcing the finest raw materials to the final suit that hangs in our store on Michigan Avenue.”

And Chicago men now have more of Ermenegildo Zegna’s fine suiting and sportswear to choose from, thanks to the recent expansion of the brand’s flagship (645 N. Michigan Ave.) with a new second story that increased its offering of luxe products. “Chicago has long been an exceptional market for Ermenegildo Zegna,” says Zegna. “Knowing the Magnificent Mile is one of the most popular retail destinations in the United States that attracts shoppers from the larger Midwest region—and most importantly, from around the world—we wanted to offer our clients the best of our brand.”

And the best is the new Couture collection designed by Stefano Pilati, Zegna’s new head of design. (The Chicago flagship, which is feting its expansion with a private party this month, will be one of three stores in the United States to carry the premier label.) Pilati presented his debut spring/summer 2014 collection at Milan Fashion Week in June, which won rave reviews from critics who praised it for its modern tailoring and styling that remained respectful of Zegna’s rich heritage. Many considered Pilati, best known for his innovative use of fabric and tailoring during his years at Yves Saint Laurent, an inspired choice to nudge Zegna in a more youthful direction, which is exactly the reason Zegna handpicked the designer in the first place. “I have a big respect for Stefano’s work and also for his knowledge and appreciation of fabrics, which is the heart and soul of our family company,” says Zegna. “We wanted to add a twist of fashion, and the timing was right with Pilati. He will enable us to speak to a different customer who might not have had Zegna on his radar so much in the past.” As its new creative director, Pilati is also breathing fresh air into Agnona, Zegna’s smaller yet equally prestigious women’s label similarly renowned for its luxurious fabrics. The collection, which is available locally at Neiman Marcus (737 N. Michigan Ave.), is currently undergoing what Zegna calls “an evolution instead of a revolution” that will give the storied brand a new fashion edge.

Despite Ermenegildo Zegna’s tremendous size (the company posted sales of more than $1.6 billion in 2012), it has remained true to its artisanal roots. The original wool mill in Trivero, Italy, founded by Ermenegildo himself in 1910, is still producing the textiles upon which Zegna is built, and the company continues to release cutting-edge fabrics that focus on everything from improved breathability to wrinkle resistance. “The union of avant-garde technologies and century-old traditions is part of what has made Ermenegildo Zegna the worldwide leader in the production of exceptional, highly innovative fabrics,” Zegna says.

This shared appreciation of both history and innovation are what he thinks make Zegna and Chicago a perfect fit. “It is certainly one of my favorite cities in the U.S. What strikes me most about Chicago is the beautiful architecture that combines the old with the new, respecting the past and embracing the future,” he says of his numerous visits. “I was also intrigued to see how much fashion plays a role in the city. There is an understated sense of style, different from other U.S. cities I have visited, that I feel our brand really speaks to.”