Creative director Mauro Ravizza Krieger gives us the inside scoop on what’s going on at Pal Zileri.
Founded by Italian entrepreneurs Gianfranco Barizza and Aronne Miola in 1980, Pal Zileri has been a menswear stalwart for more than 35 years. Despite becoming an established global brand over the decades and receiving major investment from Qatari company Mayhoola Group, leading to a complete takeover in July 2016, the brand still draws strongly on its Italian heritage, priding itself on its commitment to make every single one of its garments in Italy, either in the factory in Quinto Vicentino – a small town in the northeastern province of Vicenza – or by a network of selected Italian craftsmen.
While production has grown to an impressively large scale over the years – the factory is capable of producing around 400 jackets per day, with some of the more complicated pieces requiring 220 manufacturing steps and 10 hours of work per garment – the quality has remained the same as the day the company was founded, with each and every one of the factory artisans highly trained to produce the kind of exquisite craftsmanship we’ve come to expect from the brand.
The man tasked with leading this team of skilled workers is the brand’s creative director, Mauro Ravizza Krieger. One of the industry’s leading authorities on tailoring, styling and fabrics, Krieger adds his inimitable touch of modern urbanism to the strong foundations of the brand, combining his ‘avant-craft’ philosophy with the brand’s historic legacy. We caught up with him at the Pal Zileri factory, and got his take on everything, from how the Qatari takeover has affected the way the brand works to the changing face of the men’s fashion industry as a whole.
Last time we spoke to you was in autumn 2015. What has changed for you and the brand since then?
We are always in evolution – never revolution. The factory is our core business and we are working to give a new, modern personality to the brand, but always connected with our DNA and tradition. It’s a balancing act: We want to make improvements to everything – from jackets and suits to fabric and materials – but everything has to remain connected to the origin of the brand. You’ll find similar things in this season’s collection to last season, but updated in terms of colour and silhouette. We are walking fast, but we aren’t running; we are changing, but the core is not changing.
Tell us more about the ‘avant-craft’ term often used to describe your vision…
It means, ‘past, present and future together’. The past is the factory and the classic ways of making clothes, the present is the market that we are in and the future is the vision that we have. It also means to present the brand, combining traditional sartorial tastes with more casual influences, like sportswear. We need to look around the market, understand people’s attitudes, and merge that information with our DNA.
Qatari company Mayhoola Group became sole owners of Pal Zileri in July 2016. How has this affected the way you work?
Mayhoola has a great culture and a great knowledge of the fashion business from working with Valentino. Everybody was really happy when the deal was completed, because they understood that the company was in it for the long term. Usually, investment companies make a deal for two or three years and then they try to sell again, but this isn’t the case for us. This is really important for everyone working at Pal Zileri.
We have 600 different swatches for jackets, coats, pants and suits... From an industrial point of view, it’s very complicated to manage everything.
Mauro Ravizza Krieger
Who is the typical Pal Zileri man?
When I’m thinking about the collection, I’m thinking about a man in his 30s, who appreciates culture, wants to show himself in a contemporary and modern way, but also knows and appreciates the tradition of the brand. This is important because we are not a classic brand, but I guess that Pal Zileri could be a new way to show off the Italian sartorial culture worldwide.
Up to 1,000 fabrics are used in each of your collections. How do you keep track of it all?
We have 600 different swatches for jackets, coats, pants and suits. After that, we have 200 swatches for shirts, and then there are accessories, leather, sports and all the little extras. From an industrial point of view, it’s very complicated to manage everything. We have to use so many fabrics because tastes and needs change depending on where you are in the world. For example, flannel touch is popular in winter collections in the European market, whereas in warmer places like Dubai, it needs to be clear-cut and light. We have to find ways of incorporating these differences while keeping the same taste and vision for people all over the world.
Tell us about your made-to-measure service…
We are investing in made-to-measure at the moment – both in the traditional form for big and tall people, who can’t buy pieces from our normal collection, and for special customers, who want something personal and exclusive. The second part is growing a lot, because everybody does the traditional kind of made-to-measure, but now the most sophisticated customer wants something more.
Do you pay much attention to your competitors?
We are always looking at what else is going on in the market in terms of quality and evolution, but the most important thing for us is to walk in our own way and concentrate on what we can do without following others. Our direction, our strategy and our philosophy is always the most important.
Pal Zileri does well in the Middle East in particular. Why do you think this is?
We have been working in the Middle East for a long time now and we find that the typical Middle Eastern customer matches with our tastes. I like the think of it like this: If we were a magazine, we would be matte rather than glossy. People in the Middle East tend to appreciate that kind of timeless quality.
Being a menswear-only brand, what is your take on some other houses showing their menswear alongside the women’s?
It’s an interesting evolution. I guess that every company has to respect their brand, personality and consumer, and it must be the right thing to do for those brands. But, for us, it makes no difference. In reality, it won’t change what we do and it won’t affect the customer. The customer doesn’t care about all the things that go on behind the scenes – he just sees something he likes in the store and buys.
How do you deal with working at the top of such a large team?
I don’t feel pressure, but I do feel responsibility. At the end of the day I’m really proud of my job if everything is working. When I started my first job more than 20 years ago, I remember my boss explained to me that when you arrive at the office in the morning, the best entrance to take is from the back – where the warehouse is. If you go in from the back, you will win over the people, you can touch everything and find out what is going on. From that day, I always used the back door instead of the front.
In Italian we say ‘Ciao’ to everyone – it’s very informal – but the first time I came to the factory, everyone always greeted me formally – ‘good morning’, ‘good evening’. All that changed as people got to know me. I don’t like formality with the people in the factory. I eat every day with them. You can get more information in the company restaurant than you could ever get in the boardroom.