Our family set up Fondazione Zegna in 2000 to perpetuate the values underpinning Ermenegildo Zegna’s philosophy, so it seems only right to be thinking of him on this anniversary.
Our grandfather died on 18 November 1966. He was born on 2 January 1892 in the same town, Trivero, where he spent all his life and where he chose to be buried. In “Oltre l’orizzonte” (Beyond the horizon), Piero Chiara remembers him as follows:
Ermenegildo Zegna was aware that he had earned the nation’s recognition. It was enough for him to gaze upon Trivero, see how it had developed, see its vast factories and raise his eyes to the Panoramica to feel justifiable pride in a life well spent. He had had time for everything: time to produce and distribute his goods on a world-wide scale, time to give his people an organically conceived environment in which to live and work, and time to exalt his natural surroundings. On November 18, 1966, when he was seventy-four years old; Ermenegildo Zegna’s industrious life came to an end.
(Piero Chiara, Oltre l’orizzonte, Edizioni Lassù gli Ultimi, 1985)
Archive research has enabled us to reconstruct an image of “monsù Gildo”, as the Count of Monte Rubello was known familiarly, as reflected in the messages of condolence to the family on his death 50 years ago. Danilo Craveia (Archivio Zegna technical consultant) has made a detailed study of them.
“In some cases, amongst the ritual platitudes, we see traces of sincere, personal impressions written spontaneously by friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances taken by surprise by his sudden demise. A few brushstrokes that produce a simple yet vivid portrait of him.
Men and women who were governing the Biella area, Piemonte and Italy in 1966, but also ordinary folk and organizations and institutions of all sorts, found themselves naturally and spontaneously in agreement in defining Ermenegildo Zegna as a “big heart” and a “mentor”. These words occur in letters and telegrams, often alongside others like “example” and “concretize”, an unusual verb and not only in everyday speech.
For some, like Beppe Mongilardi, Ermenegildo Zegna was a worthy son the Biella area and an equally worthy father of Biella’s people. It doesn’t require any deep analysis of those documents to catch the underlying implication, clearly resonant between the lines, that no one saw Ermenegildo Zegna’s death as the ending of a complex, wide-reaching project that was from the very outset designed to survive its creator and become an idea, a legacy for generations to come. Those letters, whether terse or long-winded, paid tribute to Ermenegildo Zegna but also spurred on the living, highlighted their tasks and responsibilities. They were anxious, in their grief, that the baton be passed on.
The entrepreneurs who knew Ermenegildo Zegna didn’t limit themselves to expressing grief and condolences. They also dwelt on their admiration for and gratitude to a person who had been capable of concretizing his desires, of setting himself ambitious targets and achieving them in the face of difficulties that the economic boom was rapidly making people forget.
On 22 November 1966, the great Catania tailor and designer Angelo Litrico – another Italian capable, like Ermenegildo Zegna, of winning over the world – wrote to Ermenegildo’s son Aldo:
The news of the death of your father has moved the whole of Italy, from its industry to its craftsmen, and I, as one of such, share in your grief and the mourning of the Zegna family, which is felt by all of us. We have lost a precious man and it is only thanks to the continuation of his work by his heirs that we may consider ourselves indeed fortunate if this loss becomes no more than nostalgia for a person whose kindness and good works will leave an indelible mark on the life of our country. My simple words are dictated by the heart of a self-made man and by my admiration for the work of greater men who have also done so much for us material makers of things in which we try to approach art.
The day before, Francesco Ilorini Mo, founder of Lanerie Agnona, wrote to Contessa Nina:
Remembering him together is an urgent need for me. Amidst the confusion of life’s vicissitudes, his simplicity survives the things he created. His philosophy is alive and constantly relevant because it’s above all a message of love, a love that is near the innermost essence of every man. All this is alive and present, so, you see, he hasn’t left you. Ilorini was right: that philosophy is alive and relevant, fifty years on, being made concrete everyday here in Trivero and across all the continents, beneath the stern yet gentle gaze of Ermenegildo Zegna.
On this important anniversary our family extend their sincere gratitude to everyone whose daily activities pay tribute to his memory and the values he handed down to us.
President, Fondazione Zegna