If “stealth wealth” has been the inescapable buzzword of this season so far (mea culpa!), a new collaboration between Zegna and The Elder Statesman is here to add some heady SoCal flavor to the booming vertical of understated clothing made with noble fibers. With a psychedelic color palette and an undertone of enlightened sustainability, you could call it something more like—sorry in advance—“health wealth.”
On a freezing Monday night in Paris, a steady stream of fashion week-goers ducked into a Rue de L’Université mansion to celebrate the collection, years in the making, conceived by Zegna creative director Alessandro Sartori and The Elder Statesman founder Greg Chait. One attendee called it “the first great collaboration” they’d seen in ages, and nearly everybody else roaming the hôtel particulier couldn’t help but put their champagne coupes down to touch and try on the textured cashmere bombers and knit plaid shirts that filled the space.
I found Sartori and Chait upstairs several hours before the party, in a limoncello-hued room full of equally colorful garments. Each guy steers a vastly different sized ship. Zegna, based in Milan, has been around for some 110 years, and is basically like the Intel of fashion—through its vertically integrated fabric business, Zegna’s fibers can be found in clothes across the industry, as well as in its own. The Elder Statesman, which Chait founded in LA in 2007, is a Chrome Hearts-backed slinger of sunny, handmade sweaters. But when Sartori and Chait met two and a half years ago, they connected immediately over a shared obsession: cashmere.
Since Zegna’s home-run collaboration with Fear of God, which kick-started an ’80s-style tailoring revival in menswear circles, Sartori has worked sparingly with other brands. But he and Chait found they spoke the same language. “There’s been a lot of nerding out. This is an extreme nerd-out situation,” said Chait, wearing a dusty purple corduroy suit from the collection. “Very much so,” added Sartori, who was wearing a lemony cashmere overshirt. Sartori has long been devoted to pushing cashmere far beyond the turtleneck: 70% of the Zegna Fall-Winter 2023 runway collection shown earlier this year was made from cashmere, a material specially suited for the deconstructed tailoring and generously-cut casualwear that he has made a priority at the family-run company.
Cashmere is also in the plush DNA of The Elder Statesman, where it forms everything from vibey tie-dye cardigans to extra-soft stuffed animals. A lot of know-how goes into each surfy knit. “Yarn is probably the most undersung hero of our entire industry. I’d argue almost 70% of the most important development is actually on the fiber yarn level,” said Chait.
The collaboration, set to release in September, merges Sartori’s shapes—“we started with the mindset of generationless, genderless, oversized,” he said—with The Elder Statesman’s luxe hippie vibe. Louche shawl robes, woven with thick layers of cashmere, are tailor-made for a Palazzo Parigi terrace, spliff in hand. And a gauzy yellow plaid knit set—oversized short-sleeve shirt, basketball shorts—was a strong argument that all flannel should have a high cashmere content.
Sartori and Chait didn’t go heavy on cashmere just for the sake of it. One of the fiber’s many impressive qualities is the fact that it can be easily recycled. “Beyond the exclusive cashmere, exclusive yarns, exclusive construction,” Sartori said, “you could easily regenerate [these pieces] tomorrow.” Of course, it’s just as likely that wearers will one day pass them down to their kids—fashion circularity of a different kind. Accordingly, the pieces all have double stitching, their tension points reinforced with handmade construction. “We look very much at the aesthetic and the meaning of that aesthetic. That’s our job. But we need to start taking care of the full scope, and what is going to happen after,” Sartori said.