Fashion, food and art kick off Expo 2015

Fabulae Naturae is the name of an eatable, floral and art project the Zegnas conceived with artist couple Lucy and Jorge Orta

A close up of Lucy + Jorge Orta’s floral fantasies; all inspired by Zegna’s Fondo Heberlein archives
A close up of Lucy + Jorge Orta’s floral fantasies; all inspired by Zegna’s Fondo Heberlein archives

It looks like Italy is the next country to watch in Europe. Driven by the energy of young Matteo Renzi and having the world’s spotlight due to Expo 2015 where Italy presents itself as a modern agricultural state with focus on food exports. The fashion industry has always been a beacon of hope and one that makes sure Italy does not fall too far behind Europe’s export rankings. One family in particular has been doing well, the Piedmont-based Zegna clan which has been running a €1.270 billion business for some years now with more than 90 percent from exports.

Zegna Couture

Connecting the dots is a talent which seems to run deep in the Zegna family. Founder Ermenegildo Zegna, one of the first eco- and social minded entrepreneurs in Italy, his sons Aldo and Angelo plus his grandson Ermenegildo pushed the company from being a fabric manufacturer and supplier to a proper fashion brand in its own right in less than 100 years. So why not become the world’s most avant-garde men’s fashion brand when you’re already making the most exclusive fabrics through innovation and the sourcing of noble fibers directly from their markets of origin? That was Ermenegildo Jr.’s ambitious thinking behind the hiring of Stefano Pilati as creative director for the company and it has paid of. With Prada men’s, Zegna Couture is the single most important fashion show on the crowded Milan calendar. Pilati is also overseeing the company’s women’s brand Agnona for which he has chosen a slower pace but just as ambitious a design agenda.

Ermenegildo Zegna, the founder
Ermenegildo Zegna, the founder
Ermenegildo Zegna, the fashion empire builder back when he modeled in his own ads
Ermenegildo Zegna, the fashion empire builder back when he modeled in his own ads

So no wonder that Gildo’s sister Anna connected a few more dots on her turf and found meaningful and sustainable art projects for the company which are not reaching the self-aggrandizing scale of many other fashion companies who all seem to build themselves their own art foundation. No, Anna is focusing on public art and her latest project is Fabulae Naturae with artists Lucy and Jorge Orta. Zegna already collaborated with the duo for “Fabulae Romanae” a special commission in 2012 in Rome. “Most of the artistic things we get involved in are about public art because it relates to society,” says Anna Zegna who wears three hats for the company as president of the foundation, the Oasi Zegna, a nature preserve and as image advisor. “Involving the people is what my family is all about at the end of the day.”

Anna Zegna in the family-owned hotel Bucaneve
Anna Zegna in the family-owned hotel Bucaneve

Symphony of Absent Life

For the opening weekend of the Expo in Milan, the artists dreamt up a project which reached from the archives of the company in Trivero to the theme of this year’s Expo: food. Italian fashion companies always manage to serve delicious food and wine but the Zegnas scaled new heights with their event by serving their own version of Expo risotto with saffron and lemon. The risotto was made by product-obsessed chef David Oldani, a good-looking man who managed to insert a delicious fruit note to the classic Italian pasta dish. His other food stations including the finest, freshly carved Prosciutto and hand pulled Buratta and Mozzarella were all part of the Orta’s Fabulae Naturae 70X7 The Meal Act. The English-Argentine art duo installed branches of a tree on the floor in the company’s Via Savona headquarters and Oldani served up his food. Of course, all was washed down with Franciacorta wines and sparkles. Franciacorta is taking its region so seriously that they hired a former Bottega Veneta pr specialist to promote their appellation. The eating and viewing of the artists specially designed floral print on the walls was highlighted by music performances entitled “Symphony of Absent Life”, witty concerts of military blanket clad woodsmen who played flutes and turned the Antonio Cittero designed headquarter into an otherworldly atmosphere.

Carabus musician in wildlife
Carabus musician in wildlife

With their own restaurant Bucaneve, recently restored and further up in the mountains from their headquarter, the Zegnas are proving that they are understanding that food and hospitality Made in Italy is more than an expression of taste and a source of conviviality but also an exercise in brand building. Making the art synch along makes it even better.

The menu at Restaurant Bucaneve for Zegna’s Expo guests
The menu at Restaurant Bucaneve for Zegna’s Expo guests
The old school table setting
The old school table setting