"There's a saying in Italy that behind every successful man is a strong woman," says Anna Zegna, flipping through a book of swatches at the new Ermenegildo Zegna store on Fifth Avenue. As the dominant female force behind the label's ultramasculine power suits, the expression, it turns out, perfectly describes Zegna's own role in the company her grandfather founded in 1910.
Dressed in a ladylike black-and-white silk georgette blouse, a tweed jacket, tight jeans, and slingbacks, Zegna, a wife and mother of two, hardly fits the stereotype of your stodgy Savile Row expert. But as the company's director of image and communication, she has, in fact, mastered the art of fine tailoring.
In the early eighties, she headed up public relations for Versace. Before long, her father asked her to join the family business. Today she leaves it to brother Gildo and cousin Paolo to test-drive the fit and feel of the suits, but for nailing the season's new silhouette, pinstripe color, or tie, Anna knows best.
"I have to think globally," says the 47-year-old. True, the company has roots in Trivero, Italy, but its well-suited clientele are all over. Which can be tricky, considering the American businessman, say, likes a three-button suit, and the Italian a two-button.
Anna's job is to bridge this gap. At the three-story flagship, the full range of options is on view. Yes, there's the classic Couture line of wool and silk suits ($2,500-$3,500) and the Sartorial Collection of impeccable pin-striped navy suits ($1,695-$2,395). But there's more than just suits: boldly striped silk ties ($135), alligator lace-up oxfords ($3,995), a nylon jacket lined in chinchilla ($6,000). There's also the made-to-measure department for special orders. And in a move to attract the next generation of customers, the company signed on Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody as a model and started Z Zegna, a fashion-forward collection for guys who want to break from the traditional Wall Street suit. The label has certain signature touches—the pants are slimmer and flat fronted, the lapels a tad higher (suits, $895-$995). "Through Adrien we're introducing a more style-driven way of wearing a suit," says Zegna, who appreciates a suit paired with a turtleneck in winter and an open polo in summer.
In a similar push to expand the brand's image, the family is launching the Agnona collection, which includes ready-to-wear and accessories for women as well as products for the home: everything from a cashmere coat with a fox collar ($4,500) to cashmere teddy bears ($75-$195).
Zegna bought Agnona in 1999, in order to own a women's collection sophisticated enough to accompany its men's line. "Today our business literally goes from A to Z," she says. Although the two collections hang side by side, they don't always mirror each other stylistically. "Those business suits that female executives wore in 1985—they scared me," says Zegna. "This is not a tough boardroom suit!"
Through it all, Zegna counts on her womanly intuition. "The male ego is different across the world," she says. "In Italy, it's hard to tell men what to do. In America and Asia, we act as consultants: Men come to us because they want more support. They know we'll give them what they need."
At 663 Fifth Ave.; 212-421-4488; www.zegna.com.