Sisterhood stories

WEAVING NEW PATTERNS

Link in a long chain Anna Zegna. PIC BY Dinesh s kFor one who’s on top of business affairs at Ermenegildo Zegna, an Italian designer label that spells the Rolls Royce of men’s high fashion, Anna Zegna is a refreshing picture of casual elegance, the only evident sign of indulgence being a feather-light, green pashmina stole that drapes her neck.

 As image director of the family-run Ermenegildo Zegna Group that’s on the verge of closing a centenary, Anna displays a passion for her work, with a deep and intimate knowledge of the finished product down from threadbare basics such as the origin of woolen yarn to the design and innovation that goes into the making of their exquisite clothing. Listening to her, perched on the edge of a sofa in the Zegna store in UB City mall, is an educative experience in itself, as she weaves in words like mohair, merino, vicuna, alpaca and pashmina into the conversation.

 Anna’s initiation into the family’s business empire was a given. But it’s her love and commitment to social causes that have won her accolades. As president of the Zegna Foundation, she dedicates herself towards safeguarding the environment and improving the quality of life of individuals and communities, promoting culture, and supporting medical and scientific research in diverse parts of the world. In 1993, along with her cousin Laura, she developed the Oasis Zegna Project, which is regarded as a model of environmental sustainability. Her work has won her a Green Globe Award in 1998 and more recently, a Marco Polo Award from the prestigious Babson College, Boston.

In love with India

Before touching Bangalore en route to Singapore for a store opening, Anna’s whirlwind India visit took her to Hyderabad and Vijayawada, where the Foundation, through an NGO Care & Share, is immersed in projects to uplift the lives of disadvantaged people, by enabling self-sufficiency among rural women and providing education, nutrition and care for orphaned and abandoned children since 2004. The Foundation has also supported the restoration of the Horniman Circle Gardens in Mumbai. Why India? “I’ve always been in love with India,” admits Anna, whose innate curiosity and readiness to crest a learning curve, leads her to experience and respect different places, peoples and cultures. She is also grateful to the nature of her job that involves extensive travel.

 Through their flagship stores in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, with eyes on Hyderabad for another, the Zegna label fulfils the sartorial needs of the discerning Indian male. However, it’s the Indian women that wow Anna. “They’re so beautiful and welcoming. They’re the real power of the country, taking care of the family and committed to education and the household,” she gushes, while also drawing cultural similarities between the two countries.

Business and community

In a largely exploitative world, doesn’t it sound paradoxical? A union of two opposite ends of the spectrum — luxury clothing with social welfare causes? Anna takes this query well in her stride, explaining that it is a commonality of vision that binds both. “It’s a marriage of business and community,” she says with conviction, quite firm in her belief that there can be no pigeon-holing of the two. “It’s like the warp and weft that constitutes a fabric. If communities improve, businesses will improve. From the shearer to the customer, our final product has passed through 500 pairs of hands before reaching the stores, and all of those — right down to the communities that rear the animals — need to be given due attention and care,” she explains. “It’s about applying quality to the product and also to people’s lives,” says Anna, who represents a brand that’s known for its obsessive attention to detail.

 Thus, every Zegna product that reaches the customer bears the invisible mark of the group’s ‘green’ philosophy. “If customers can perceive that, they will be able to appreciate the product even better,” says Anna, who graduated in political sciences from Lausanne in 1980 and did post-graduate studies in advertising and marketing at Watford College, London the following year.

Going by interesting examples that Anna cites, the work of the Foundation has created ripple effects, inspiring many to do their bit for a better world in their own regions. The fact that her email inbox is always full of messages from people asking how they can help is in itself gratifying, says Anna, who sees herself as merely a link in a long chain.  
A great one for the outdoors, Anna manages to strike a harmonious blend between work, family and leisure. “If you’re passionate about life, you will put your heart into everything you do,” says this mother of two teenagers. Skiing in winter and long walks in summer in her hometown Trivero, are high on her list of leisure activities. Gardening is another interest as is yoga. By her own confession, Anna isn’t a great cook, reasoning that one can’t be good at everything. “I do cook at home and no one died from eating it!” she adds ,laughing.

 Anna feels that through the Foundation, she’s making only a small difference to lives. But to the lives deriving the benefit it may mean all the difference. And for this, one can only say grazie! 

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