When talking of fashion or style, we don’t usually bother much with definitions, which are always rather inadequate. But this time we’ll make an exception and start with the definition of house organ: a “corporate newspaper”, an official source with which a company informs its customers, employees and other stakeholders of initiatives in progress and new developments. A house organ expresses and advocates the company’s identity, its culture and values, without intermediaries. The magazine TOP was the house organ of Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna. And it makes surprisingly interesting reading…
The first issue of TOP looked at 1966-1967, the second at 1967, the third at spring-summer 1968, and so on, season by season, for 23 issues, till 1979-1980. TOP documented Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna’s entry to the world of garment making and fashion understood as finished clothing and accessories products. TOP served the company in that new configuration throughout the Seventies, and like “Arbiter”, which had provided direct contact between founder Ermenegildo Zegna’s wool mill and its customer base of wholesalers and tailors sine from 1935, it had a mission.
The complete collection of TOP gives us a striking commentary on that extraordinary busy and contradictory epoch, at times dramatic but incredibly forward-looking and still a hugely generous source of cultural and stylistic inspiration. In that often noisy and dissonant context, Zegna’s creative and industrial revolution had a clear, precise and undoubtedly original voice. Its far from easy challenge was to communicate the novelty of Zegna’s garment making in the context of the Made in Italy phenomenon that was then consolidating its identity and recognizability and thereby arousing conscious, reasoned but no less potent desire.
Aldo and Angelo Zegna decided to publish a magazine and also send it to subscribers. Had they thought like their competitors, they surely wouldn’t have bothered. Instead, they wanted not only to advertise the company through its fabrics and suits, through stores and in the many magazines already to be found in newsagents but also by conveying their own unmediated message, structured along the lines of the Zegna philosophy. A message that needed to arrive without distortion or interference, independent and free.
If we analyze other house organs, before and in the same period as TOP (from Olivetti’s “Comunità” to Pirelli’s “Fatti e Notizie”), we see that they referred to “things” or services that were difficult to advertise in other ways. Things that were all important, primary in fact, but not able to speak for themselves because they weren’t draped over mannequins in boutiques or photographed somewhere or worn by someone. Zegna, on the other hand, was in precisely that trade category, that of the highly visible product, yet it aspired to guide not only style but lifestyle choices.
TOP illustrated and explained. It wasn’t just advertising. Zegna wanted to share thoughts and not just beautiful photographs, to characterize with distinctly industrial practicality a “fashion system” that the general public often associated with the impalpable lightness of appearances. But TOP wasn’t a stuffy manual or even a treatise on good taste. It was abreast of the times (when not ahead of them) and over its nearly 15 years it adopted, changed, experimented and always struck a balance between form and content.
When the first issue came out, with its boldly minimalist black cover, no nonsense, with “moda_uomo” (man_fashion) coming straight to the point, with no introduction to ease the reader into the first article... well, it must have aroused considerable attention and curiosity. It was a new way to engage customers, employees and other stakeholders on matters of tailoring, raw materials, fabrics and detailing, clothes and how to wear them. And not only: it was a vision of life itself. And it all said “Italy”, as if it were obvious, though it certainly wasn’t at the time.
Leafing through TOP, appreciating its quality and sophistication, its elegant sexiness, its male (but by no means misogynist) ethos, its modernity and different levels of communication, is a rewarding experience, and not only an aesthetic one. So we’ll follow this up next week with another look…