The designers speak on the collaboration between the Elder Statesman and Zegna, balancing innovation with garments that last forever
“You’re probably not used to a process this slow,” begins Greg Chait, founder of the Elder Statesman, retrieving a cashmere sweater from a nearby rack before delineating the collaboration between Zegna and his own label. Alessandro Sartori, Zegna’s artistic director, keeps an eye on the future while leading a house invested in slow fashion, balancing the need for change with tradition and continuity. He finds his American counterpart in Chait, who brings a distinct ease to the act of producing garments, talking through dense topics like supply chain in a way that feels approachable.
Across its 113-year history, slowness has remained a core tenant of Zegna’s ethos—a refusal to succumb to the hyper-consumption of fashion that arose with the digital age. This is by design. To produce something consistent with the Zegna heritage requires, between sourcing and manufacture, a considerable amount of time. While lacking a century of experience (Chait launched his brand in 2007), the Elder Statesmen aims to cultivate a similar sense of commitment in the United States—trading the Italian countryside for a sprawling facility in LA’s Arts District. From this common interest arose a new collaboration between Zegna and the Elder Statesmen, which interfaces the former’s design with the eclectic, ’70s California aesthetics of the latter, finding something genuinely cross-cultural in the process.
The evening before the launch of the collection, Sartori and Chait sat down with Document in West Hollywood’s iconic Sunset Towers to discuss the challenges of building garments that last.
Colin Boyle: The Elder Statesmen is so strongly based in California’s aesthetics and culture. Alessandro, is there something about the city of LA that excites you, or was it more the design of the Elder Statesmen?
Alessandro Sartori: I feel really safe here. And, of course, meeting Greg, I knew we had to partner in some way.
Colin: Greg, what excited you about working with Zegna?
Greg Chait: I’m super supply chain-oriented—so I’m very aware of the work these guys have done for the past hundred years, creating this invaluable web. And, of course, they do so much through fabrics for so many brands, including our own. I was like, I have to talk to them.
“We don’t belong to those last-minute trends. We don’t have that kind of brand. To make [something of] this quality, you have to be slow.”
Alessandro: You had all these questions about artisans and supply when we first met.
Greg: Yeah. I still probably know 70 percent of the entire supply chain of the fabrics we work with. I really like to sink my teeth in.
Colin: Would you say your collaboration is based on the technical commitments of both Zegna and Elder?
Alessandro: It’s more grounded in common values, and common meanings, and points of view. We then did a lot of work technically, to produce something with respect to those values.
Colin: Where was the collaboration and design work done?
Alessandro: There was a lot of back and forth [between Italy and California].
Greg: And then there was COVID in between. There was a time when we couldn’t see each other, and it was hard to make the right decisions.
Alessandro: Technical discussions are very important. At the end [of the process], you can only make minor changes. But you need to work full-circle.
Colin: Greg, was there an appeal to having access to materials or ways of working that aren’t as prevalent in America?
Greg: That was probably one of the greatest reasons for doing this. I’ll give you an example: We don’t do wovens. It’s very rare, and for Zegna, it’s their language. And another: I’m really into yarn mills. And the mills [Zegna works with] are insane. If you’re thinking about food, it’s like, Oh, we literally just got the best Kobe.
Colin: So you essentially got to nerd out on everything. Did you feel like there were any difficulties you had to work through, in terms of design or working across two teams?
Alessandro: Team-wise, no. There were difficulties around the target we wanted to achieve on some of the products. Some of the finishings have been experimental. And to get there, we needed a lot of tests and [interim] products.
Now is a moment when the market really needs what we’re doing. It’s a very good moment to have the right direction.
Colin: What do you mean by the right direction?
Alessandro: There is a sort of void in the market between what was, and what will be. I’m talking about menswear: How many brands were hyper two years ago, four years ago, and now other brands are taking their place? I think it’s because people want something different. Garments [that are] more durable, [of a] nice quality. They want to be surprised. They don’t want the copy of the copy, but something new. Maybe they buy less because they want real value. I don’t know, Greg, if you agree?
Greg: I do agree with Ale a hundred percent, [in the sense] that people are really focused on how things are made, where they’re made, and the authenticity behind the companies that are making them. That’s a good thing, generally, for our industry. It’s kind of like a badge of pride, wearing something that’s well-made. It’s part of the fashion statement.
Colin: There’s this conception of quiet luxury, and it’s pitted against supercharged microtrends. It feels like a death spiral—because how can you produce something well that’s also fast enough to capitalize on a moment?
Alessandro: We don’t belong to those last-minute trends. We don’t have that kind of brand. To make [something of] this quality, you have to be slow. You need six or eight months. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t good shopping. But we are here with these garments, made to have a long life.
Greg: That’s the trick, right? That’s the fun part. To be able to do something that feels serious, where you can still enjoy it.
Alessandro: It’s an interesting moment in fashion. Rules are changing, people are changing, people are experimenting. And I think it’s our job to teach.
Greg: That’s the goal. It’s like a ripple effect. And once you understand [the process] a little more, you can look at your own closet, and maybe be delighted by some of the accidental choices you made. When I bring people to the Elder Statesman factory, they say they had no idea something [could be] made this way. People feel good when they know how much energy went into something.
Alessandro: And we will soon see a generation that will value that.
Colin: Hopefully, we move as a society to where this is the standard practice. We kind of have to.
Alessandro: The difficult part [for others] would be the supply. Today, if someone went to one of these spinning wheels, without any record, and asked for a thousand kilos of cashmere, of course they could buy it. But the delivery is how many months?
Greg: It could be ages.
Alessandro: And then there’s these complex treatments. How do you find someone that can scale up production with the right technology? More and more, you need your own supply. Or, you can have three or four partners that are doing the job for you.
Colin: How do you transition to that if you’re a brand that’s not working in that space? It’s a steep learning curve.
Greg: The bottom can drop out on you. If you don’t know what to look for, it’s a problem. If I make something, I want to be able to know how I made it, and be able to continue to make it in exactly the same way.
Colin: I think the strength of Zegna could be that it’s consistent over time.
Alessandro: Again, it’s an interesting moment. It’s important to shape, to carve what you do in a different way.