MILAN — Ermenegildo Zegna is shifting gears and investing in a new communication campaign heavily hinged on digital and dubbed “Defining Moments,” pairing Roberto De Niro with McCaul Lombardi. This confirms a WWD report in November. A private dinner will be held in New York tonight to celebrate the project.An exclusive interview with chief executive officer Gildo Zegna and artistic director Alessandro Sartori together at the company’s headquarters here meant to discuss the spring campaign's concept turned into a “defining moment” in itself as the conversation touched upon a wide variety of topics, including the bond between the two men, which goes back more than two decades.“I still get goosebumps when I watch the video,” Zegna said of the three-minute film, which sees De Niro and Lombardi in Los Angeles talking at a private villa in Beverly Hills or driving around town in a burgundy, vintage open-top Maserati.In the video, De Niro discusses his decision-making in accepting or refusing a role and shares his experience with Lombardi. “The conversation was real, easy and spontaneous, there was no predefined theme,” said Sartori, who showed his first collection for the brand in January.“It’s a beautiful couple, we are very satisfied with the finished product,” Zegna said of the two actors, who are both Italian-American. Opposite the more established De Niro, Lombardi, after “American Honey,” is emerging in the industry, with a string of films coming out this year, including “Patti Cake$,” “Killing Animals,” “Sollers Point” and “Mindless.”“The project starts from the values of the brand and looks to the future, speaking to the cluster of friends, clients and ambassadors that have a tie to the brand beyond the product,” said Sartori, who believes these values, the “extraordinary passion” behind the Zegna family and the “intergenerational images that represent them” convinced De Niro.Zegna and Sartori also pointed out that the campaign starts from the film, which will be visible on the brand’s Web site and on social media starting Friday. The goal is also to reach out to a younger target consumer. Online elements span images from behind the scenes and one-on-one interviews.“The photos came after the film,” explained Sartori. Both were directed by Francesco Carrozzini and the ads will break in March issues of monthlies globally. Zegna emphasized that this is only the first step. “We will add more conversations; it’s not a one shot, it’s a communication platform where there is interaction.”This will evolve with another project as viewers will be asked to send their own “Defining Moments.” “We want to make them part of the story. There will be a competition, we will nominate a committee and a jury, and select winners, who will have the opportunity to win a Zegna luxury experience, including a made-to-measure suit. We want to forge an emotional connection," the ceo said.Zegna also pointed out that consistency, as well as authenticity, were key. “This is a long-term project and we are working with De Niro on another campaign for fall,” the executive said. “De Niro is passionate about many subjects, from New York to cuisine, so we are working on another person to flank him, not necessarily as an actor [since] the subject will not necessarily be Hollywood. And after this, we will have other 'Defining Moments' with others. We have thousands of ideas, this campaign is just the beginning of the conversation. We want to share stories to inspire.”Zegna compared his own reserve to that of De Niro’s. “He is shy, so it’s nice to discover him. The campaign creates an open discussion and stirs up emotions. Our customers appreciate storytelling. There are moments you’ll remember all your life, this is what 'Defining Moments' is about.”Zegna was upbeat about “the fit” of different elements coming together since the arrival of Sartori. “We mapped it out, but we were lucky that [De Niro] accepted and the timing is perfect. There is a new positive energy with this new start.”While also closely associated with Giorgio Armani, De Niro has worn Zegna’s suits for years and the executive said he only recently found out that the actor asked his stylist to buy a number of Zegna looks in Barcelona to wear on the set of the 2012 film "Red Lights" being made by Harvey Weinstein based on the novel by David Kertzer about the kidnapping of a young boy by the Vatican.While declining to provide details about the investment in "Defining Moments," Zegna pointed to a double-digit increase in marketing spending compared with last summer’s campaign and, in particular, a “strong investment in digital.”Zegna and Sartori went on to discuss their own “defining moments,” such as agreeing to work together again last year. (Sartori first joined Zegna in 1989 and left to join Berluti in 2011.) “We were in Bielmonte [Italy, near the storied headquarters], in our mountains, we opened a bottle of 1968 Gaja Barbaresco, over a dish of spaghetti and fresh tomatoes cooked by my wife,” Zegna said. “You tried my [Lancia] Fulvia, fell in love and bought one yourself,” he added to Sartori, who is passionate about vintage cars.Zegna also spoke about ski races the two had together 20 years ago. “On Feb. 25, we have two races in the morning and then the Agnona presentation [controlled by the Zegna group] in the afternoon,” he said with a laugh, shaking his head. “We are both very competitive,” he added.Zegna was hopeful about future developments at the brand, leveraging Sartori’s skills, experience and knowledge of the company. “One of the problems in this industry is to plan long-term. We must have time to stop and think sometimes. With Alex [Sartori], it’s easy to plan for the next three years. We just created an innovation committee, it will be easier for me to decide what resources you can allocate to projects, not only financially but in terms of skills, too. We believe in collections by project, and we can leverage our single pipeline, put our resources to good use and be flexible. I can finally put into action mechanisms that I’ve always had in my mind. As of today, with Alex we can use these levers in a more interesting and intelligent way.”After a 2016 “to forget — started on the defensive and ended on the defensive. January began very differently. This is a year to attack,” Zegna said. “To have a positive sign in all markets is impossible, but the important thing is to have a final project that is positive, clear and winning, where creative innovation and history stemming from our roots are essential.”“I feel like I’m in a candy store,” concluded Sartori.
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