By  on January 14, 2008

MILAN — Ermenegildo Zegna appears to be in a game of one-upmanship—with itself.

On Tuesday, the final day of the Milan men’s collections, the Italian luxury house will unveil its glinting new headquarters—a mammoth space that boasts four showrooms and, for the first time, pulls all of Zegna’s creative and directional divisions under one roof.

More than just a new home for Zegna, the showroom and office complex—which comes on the heels of the company’s first global store here—is another example of the brand’s increasing clout. Designed by architects Antonio Citterio and Gianmaria Beretta, the 86,000-square-foot building, located at Via Savona 56/A, is a modernist melding of glass, steel and polished stone, at once imposing and inviting.

In a walk-through last week, Zegna CEO Gildo Zegna called the new headquarters the largest single investment in the history of the family-run company, which is nearly 100 years old. “We wanted to create a work environment where we could put the entire creative side of Zegna together—from design, merchandising, marketing and store development to sales,” Gildo told DNR. “At the same time, we wanted to create a home for all our brands.”

To that end, the three-story structure, with two floors of underground parking, features separate showrooms for each of Zegna’s four style beacons.

Z Zegna and Zegna Sport occupy the ground floor. With more than 6,000 square feet of space, the Z Zegna showroom, dubbed the teatro, is the largest of the four. It will provide a setting not only for sales but also for exhibitions and fashion events, including Tuesday’s fall ’08 Z Zegna presentation.

The Ermenegildo Zegna brand—including the Sartoria, Upper Casual and Couture subcategories—dominates the first floor, while accessories, from footwear to eyewear and small leather goods, are located on the second.

“The new layout allows each brand to develop in a more autonomous way,” Gildo said, noting that the space has been set up to shorten the buying time for retailers. “The project is truly a step forward in building a better work environment, not only for Zegna’s [employees] but also for our clients,” he said. Until now, Zegna’s offices were spread out, with locations in both Italy and Switzerland. The consolidation offers many benefits, including reduced travel time between offices.

Still outside Milan are Zegna’s historic wool mill in Trivero—in the Biella province, renowned for its textiles—and its “hard” offices, which include logistics, human resources and finances, in Stabio, Switzerland. Zegna has shuttered several of its satellite showrooms throughout Europe. Worldwide, it now operates six showrooms, which, besides the one in Milan, are in Munich, Barcelona (which serves South America), New York, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Zegna bought the ex-turbine factory in 2003 and had to demolish the industrial space before construction could begin. The headquarters took more than two years to build.

Just as the Peter Marino–designed global store serves as a promotional vehicle to the consumer, the new HQ delivers a strong branding message to the men’s wear industry. With neighbors like Giorgio Armani, Tod’s and soon Diesel, Zegna is the latest brand to set it roots in Zona Tortona, this city’s up-and-coming design and fashion neighborhood.

The space vividly reflects Zegna’s commitment to becoming a global brand. Glass doors open to the reception area, where a commissioned work by Michelangelo Pistoletto greets visitors. The “Mela Reintegrata” is an enormous woolen apple with sections cut out and reattached: It represents man reconnecting with nature.

Nature is a recurring theme throughout. A garden appears immediately off the entrance while the second- and third-floor offices overlook a terraced teakwood courtyard. Rising like a modern glass city, the building is filled with light, even on a dreary gray Milan day.

Glass walkways and bridges—a design element pulled from Lanificio Zegna—connect the floors. Ermenegildo Zegna, Gildo’s grandfather, had built similar structures from wood along the perimeter of his wool mill so that visitors could see the entire operation. Gildo fondly recalled riding his bicycle on these bridges as a child.

“The new headquarters, along with the Peter Marino stores, are the core foundation of the next chapter in the history of Zegna,” Gildo said.

That next chapter also will also include the opening of the redesigned New York flagship in March. Three other Peter Marino–designed stores, including an independent tower in Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood, have been green lighted.

Yet Gildo insisted he doesn’t plan to continue indefinitely at this pace. “It’s not that we’re after the biggest and the best,” he said. “We’re following plans that serve our strategy to create better teamwork, do better and become a global brand.“

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