MILAN — Tapping Stefano Pilati last year has given Gildo Zegna an additional spring in his step.

This story first appeared in the June 27, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Speaking ahead of the Ermenegildo Zegna show last week, the company’s chief executive officer was upbeat and brimming with energy. “I’m proud and satisfied, happy with a partnership that helps us raise the bar” at a time when business is generally challenging, said Zegna. “It is at such a moment that one must be daring, take risks, do different things, press the accelerator, not the brake. We have not put a stop to our investments approved in November. The challenge is how to manage the complexities effectively, provided one has the resources and the brand,” said Zegna, forecasting a 2014 “better than 2103, but still not easy.” Asked about the second half of this year, the executive said he expects low-single-digit growth, lamenting currency headwinds, for example.

Last Saturday, Pilati unveiled his own interpretation of the Ermenegildo Zegna Couture collection, which was first launched a decade ago and is now being given a higher profile.

Couture is priced 50 percent above the flagship line, which includes the Sartorial (tailor made) and upper-casual collections. With Couture, Zegna said he is eyeing the “superaffluent” consumer in new markets, explaining that the line will be available in no more than 50 stores globally, including the Milan Via Montenapoleone boutique, which will be expanded with an additional dedicated floor to be unveiled in the first part of 2014.

“We continue to add markets that are always more challenging, demanding and even more exclusive, notwithstanding the crisis,” said Zegna, pointing to social and economic troubles in Brazil and Turkey, in addition to a slowdown in China and India, which “never really took off.”

The executive was pleased with the performance of the U.S. market and said that Couture will also be available in a new 7,560-square-foot Peter Marino-designed boutique in Los Angeles that will open at the end of July, as well as in the Las Vegas and New York units.

In addition to Russia and the Gulf area, Zegna is looking at Africa, which is still “small, but growing,” and where the company plans to open six stores in the next three years, in Nigeria, Angola, South Africa and, possibly, Mozambique.

Zegna underscored how the Couture project allows Italian industry and craftsmanship to pair with “a big designer, whose genius creates a bomb [of creativity] that will allow the group to consolidate its leadership in men’s wear,” citing products all made by hand in Italy, the finest fabrics and attention to details — such as hand-stitched buttonholes or fabric inserts in shirts to avoid the risk of rips — combined with “more modern style and research.” He also called Pilati a “master with colors,” noting that he employed 33 different hues for the collection.

For his part, Pilati described the collection as “a project of evolution, not revolution. This is a company, not a maison, with an approach to design that is different, but stimulating. The lucidity is in maintaining a balance between creativity and what you have to do. I am quite satisfied. I had fun and learned a lot.”