Chairman, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna Group on company evolution, Saudi expansion plans

Chairman, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna Group on company evolution, Saudi expansion plans
Zegna CEO Gildo Zegna (right) at the New York Stock Exchange in December 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

Chairman, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna Group on company evolution, Saudi expansion plans

Chairman, CEO of Ermenegildo Zegna Group on company evolution, Saudi expansion plans

DUBAI: It has been quite a year for family firm Ermenegildo Zegna Group. The Italian company last week announced it had signed an agreement to enter into a long-term license for Tom Ford fashion with the Estee Lauder Companies.

The news came as Estee Lauder revealed its acquisition of Tom Ford for $2.8 billion.



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In December last year, the company went public on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap of $2.4 billion. The luxury menswear label also significantly rebranded, adopting a singular name, Zegna, and a minimalist logo.

For the heritage brand, the future is as important as maintaining its Italian roots.



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And the group’s chairman and chief executive officer, Gildo Zegna, told Arab News about Zegna’s expansion plans for Saudi Arabia.

With the Middle East and Africa reporting recent quarterly growth of 86.4 percent year-on-year, the region is considered a key market for the company.

Zegna said: “Our Dubai Mall store has become the benchmark for our business – 30 different nationalities shop there daily – it’s just unbelievable.”



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With Dubai expecting 1 million visitors for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, he anticipated it would be a profitable month.

And following a trip to Saudi Arabia, Zegna revealed that expansion plans for the Middle East were in full swing.

“It was a very exciting trip – I am amazed to see the resources the people are putting into the country – they want to invest in the future and modernity.

“The key is to be there with good partners which we have (Al-Malki Group), and I think we’re going to get great locations and get super busy,” he added.



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In 2023, Saudi Arabia will see the opening of two Zegna boutiques, with several more in the pipeline within the next three to five years in yet more expansion for the 112-year-old label.

It was in 1910 when Ermenegildo Zegna established Lanificio Zegna, a wool mill making the finest textiles from natural fibers, in his hometown of Trivero, Italy.

The business grew into a luxury group including menswear, Thom Browne, acquired in 2018, and one-of-a-kind Made in Italy Luxury Textile Laboratory Platform.



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On Dec. 20 last year, Zegna rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, making history as the firm became the first Italian fashion brand to list there.

“Going public was probably the biggest and hardest decision of my life – I was putting the firm and the family at stake,” he said.

After much research and planning, the deal went ahead in agreement with Investindustrial Acquisition Corp., a special-purpose acquisition corporation sponsored by investment subsidiaries of Investindustrial VII L.P.

“I also think that it was the best way to prepare the company for the next generation – with the right governance and resources,” Zegna added.



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The founding family remains major shareholders with a 62 percent stake. And this year’s financial records would appear to confirm that Zenga’s move was the right one.

For the third quarter of this year, the group posted revenues of 357 million euros ($366 million), up 27.6 percent year-on-year, taking the revenues for the first nine months of 2022 to 1.09 billion euros.

Ahead of the initial public offering, the company rebranded itself by putting all three clothing lines under one umbrella.

Zegna said: “We decided to consolidate and have one brand – Zegna.”



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Brand equity had always been a strong focus at Zegna, and the latest move has created a more streamlined identity for the label, as did its new logo featuring a double-stripe signifier.

Although known for its made-to-measure suits using top-quality fabrics, the brand has branched out into creating luxury leisure wear under the creative direction of Italian fashion designer Alessandro Sartori.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, I called in the executive committee to launch a new project that changed the perception of Zegna from tailoring to luxury leisure wear – that was the beginning of a new era and probably one of the smartest decisions I made,” Zegna added.

Through focusing on category management and creating iconic products such as the triple stitch sneaker and knitwear, Zegna has become more accessible to different age groups.

Referring to the overshirt and casual pants he was wearing for the Arab News interview, the company boss said it was the new Zegna norm and an approach that appealed to loyalists and younger generations.

“It’s about creating excellent products with a contemporary style in innovative fabrics,” he added.

With its made-to-measure service, everything from sneakers to knitwear, outerwear and suits can be customized in various materials and colors.



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This year, Zegna also unveiled an exclusive partnership with Real Madrid as its official travel wear partner – a move capitalizing on football’s growing relationship with high fashion. Dior, Moncler, and Off-White are some of the other big brands that have signed deals with major football clubs.

Footballers make influential brand ambassadors. In the Zegna campaign, the Real Madrid players are seen wearing the brand’s signature overshirt and triple stitch sneakers, highlighting its timeless yet contemporary approach to design.

Italian-made menswear aside, its textiles division remains a global benchmark for luxury fabrics and one of the company’s most significant growth drivers.

Third-quarter financial results showed textile revenues hitting $31 million, up 33.3 percent year-on-year. The firm continues to supply its textiles to some of the most premium high-end brands, including Gucci and Tom Ford.



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With a vertically integrated supply chain, the brand has strong control over its suppliers. Last year, alongside Prada, it acquired an Italian cashmere producer.

Zegna said: “Filati Biagioli Modesto is a company I bought with Mr. Bertelli of Prada to make sure we have a good supply of traceable cashmere that is becoming very scarce. From sheep to shop, we are the only luxury company that is fully integrated.”



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Elsewhere, from its Achill farm in New South Wales, Australia comes the finest merino wool, shipped to the firm’s Italian mills and then onto shops.

He pointed out that through its supply chain, the company was stronger in terms of sustainability with traceable fiber.

Zegna noted that the firm had always attempted to give back to the environment, whether through its Oasi Zegna forest reserve in Italy, or upcycling.

“Our #UseTheExisting project utilizes leftovers of existing fibers and fabrics to minimize waste,” Zegna added.

Items from the eco-conscious collection can be purchased online and in store.

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 
Updated 09 December 2022

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 

Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’ 
  • The Arab actor — currently starring in MBC’s ‘Room 207’ — has overcome self-doubt to become one of the Arab world’s most-acclaimed leading men 

DUBAI: Mohamed Farrag did it the hard way. That’s why it feels different. As Arab News sits with the acclaimed Egyptian actor over lunch in Dubai, the proof is in the way that passersby greet him — they are not just meeting a star, they are meeting an artist whose work they deeply admire. 

MBC Shahid’s new series “Room 207” is perhaps Farrag’s finest work yet, and is just beginning to light a fire across the Arabic-speaking world as we speak — establishing him firmly as a leading man, and vindicating his entire approach to acting. 

“If there’s one thing I want to change about this industry, about the mentality of acting in Egypt, it’s this: Anyone can be well known — if I kill somebody, I’m going to be well known — but what’s the purpose of that fame?” Farrag says. “Fame shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a side effect.” 

Mohamed Farrag stars in MBC Shahid’s new series ‘Room 207.’ (Getty Images)

At 39, Farrag has reached the point where he’s earned the right to make such proclamations. After all, he was vital to the success of Mona Zaki’s super-sized 2021 Ramadan hit “Newton’s Cradle,” which became the most-watched Egyptian series of the year and continues to find an audience on Netflix, with many declaring it the best Arab series in years. 

“Room 207,” since its first two episodes debuted on October 31, is being rated even higher, pulling in big enough audiences to make a second season a foregone conclusion even with only half the first having aired.  

That a series that moves Farrag directly into the spotlight would get that sort of immediate reaction is no surprise. He’s built years of goodwill from committed, scene-stealing performances across film, television and theater. What is perhaps surprising about the show is that it it’s a homegrown Egyptian horror series that has become hugely popular. In general, horror is a genre in which only imports receive acclaim in the Arab world.  

“When I was first sent the script, I picked it up to glance at it before I went to bed. I ended up finishing it at 3 a.m. and immediately called the producer, waking him from a sound sleep. I told him that no one was going to do this project but me. I made that vow to him. I needed it to happen,” says Farrag.  

Riham Abdel Ghafour and Farrag in ‘Room 207.’ (Supplied)

The series is based on a novel by acclaimed Egyptian author Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, the third adaptation of his work since he passed away in 2018. The last, Netflix’s big-budget bet “Paranormal” (2020), failed to find an audience despite a massive promotional push, and while “Room 207” may share a passing resemblance, it’s resonating in a way that other adaptations have not, capturing what made Tawfik’s paperbacks fly off the shelves for decades.   

“To be honest, I started to think we were headed for a season two during the second week of shooting. And I’ve never felt that way before,” says Farrag. “This project has a very special place in my heart. I don't choose to do anything I don't love, but this one is special. And it’s not because I'm the hero, it’s because it’s not like anything I’ve seen before. The vibes, the writing, the cast, the way we shoot — I truly love this.” 

Mohamed Farrag with Mona Zaki in 'Newton's Cradle.' (Supplied)

Perhaps the reason that Farrag is responding to it so strongly is that it taps into the precocious boy he once was, the boy who fell in love with television in the first place. 

“When I was a kid, I didn’t want to watch cartoons, I didn’t want to play with my sisters. No. I was always watching TV — but very heavy series made for adults. It was drama, drama, and more drama all the time. I was like an addict, watching things meant for people far older,” says Farrag. “When I went to school, they asked every kid what they wanted to be. I said I wanted to be an actor. I didn’t even know what acting was, but I was committed.” 

At home, Farrag and his sisters would watch movies on VHS until they found a scene they liked in particular. Then they would press stop, and Farrag would quickly scribble down the scene from memory. Then they would act the scenes out together and record their best performances. 

“I still have the tape recordings of our voices from when we were kids. I still listen to them from time to time, when I miss the feeling. It was a feeling of innocence, of passion toward acting. Those were beautiful memories, and I still get emotional when I think about them,” says Farrag. 

There have been many days since Farrag began his career that he has needed those tapes — needed a reminder that he was doing this for a reason. It is only in recent years, he admits, that he has truly felt like he’s ‘made it.’ For years, he felt insecure not only about his career, but also about his ability, often having difficulty watching his own films and series because of how harshly he would judge his own performances. But his ever-growing mastery of his craft eventually overpowered his self-doubt, and made him a fixture on screens across the Arab world. 

“I think I’ve grown up now. Some elements have changed in my character, and it’s clear in my life, in my work, and in the way I see myself. I used to put so much hate on myself, but I’ve found a way out of that. I started to like myself, and I started to be able to watch my work up on the screen with pride,” he says. 

Farrag is in a particularly reflective mood. Perhaps it’s because he just walked out of MBC’s offices, where he witnessed the ecstatic reactions that the company has had to “Room 207” so far, and how committed MBC already was to making a second season happen — and committed to Farrag personally as an A-list leading man for years to come. It was the kind of meeting that makes those harder truths easier to admit, knowing that the happy ending is already here. That boy recording his voice into the tape recorder is now a man helping lead Arabic television to places it’s never been before.  

“I’ve always loved what I do. Even during the hardest moments, if I asked myself if I wanted to keep going, the voice inside me always repeated back, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ But it feels different now,” he says. “I’m filled with more pride than I ever was before. I love everything that I’ve done, but now I’m excited for the next thing even more. Acting is beautiful, man.” 

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 
Updated 09 December 2022

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 

Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection 

DUBAI: The veteran Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy’s jewelry has become some of the most sought-after in the world. Her signature gold-and-silver pieces, embellished with Arab designs and engravings, have been embraced by Egypt’s top entertainers, including Soad Hosny and Yusra.  

International stars such as Julia Roberts, Kerry Washington and Rihanna have caught on too. “When we explain to them what’s written, they’re happy, because it’s something new,” Fahmy tells Arab News from her base in Cairo. “I’m combining calligraphy, wisdom, and philosophy into what you’re wearing.” 

Fahmy started out professionally in the late Eighties, and her hand-crafted work is informed by her passion for the culture and history of the Arab world; be it the poetry of Kahlil Gibran, the symbols of ancient Egypt, or Mamluk architecture. She likes to call it “intellectual jewelry,” that not only reflects her cultivated upbringing but her ongoing drive to inform the public. 

“I was raised in a household that reads. Books are very important me. Through them, there were a lot of things I liked that affected me,” says Fahmy. “Our jewelry is intellectual because it holds an Arab identity that could change people’s lives, or delight them. I like to share my love of Arab culture with people.”

A piece that is particularly close to Fahmy’s heart is an 18-karat gold and sterling silver ring, inscribed with words from Warda’s classic track “Batwanes Beek.”  (Supplied)

Fahmy recently launched a new music-themed collection that pays tribute to iconic Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Algerian singers who flourished between the Sixties and Nineties. In this collection, everyone gets their due — the lyricists and composers behind each song are mentioned too. “The Golden Age of Arab Love Songs” features rings, bracelets, and necklaces studded with romantic lyrics sung by the likes of Warda, Fayrouz, and Sabah Fakhri.   

A piece that is particularly close to Fahmy’s heart is an 18-karat gold and sterling silver ring, inscribed with words from Warda’s classic track “Batwanes Beek.”  

“I come from the generation of Abdel Halim Hafez, Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and Farid Al-Atrash. They sang great songs,” explains Fahmy. “So I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I transport that nostalgia?’ Maybe it stirred something in people.”    

Lebanese filmmaker Wissam Charaf talks ‘Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous’ — a love story rooted in despair

Lebanese filmmaker Wissam Charaf talks ‘Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous’ — a love story rooted in despair
Updated 09 December 2022

Lebanese filmmaker Wissam Charaf talks ‘Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous’ — a love story rooted in despair

Lebanese filmmaker Wissam Charaf talks ‘Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous’ — a love story rooted in despair
  • The Lebanese filmmaker’s second feature is an intriguing mix of the fantastical, the absurd and the tragic

DUBAI: By his own admission, Wissam Charaf leads “a schizophrenic life.” The Lebanese writer and director, whose second feature — “Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous” — had its regional premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival this week, is a journalist (“because cinema doesn’t put food on the table”). But the dry, factual approach he must take to his day job is not carried over to his filmmaking.

“Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous” is, ostensibly, a love story set in Beirut. Its two central characters (“marginals who love each other,” Charaf says) are Ahmed (Ziad Jallad) — a Syrian refugee who scrapes a living selling scrap metal — and Mehdia (Clara Couturet), an Ethiopian housemaid working for the ailing Ibrahim and his wife Leila.

Wissam Charaf at the Red Sea International Film Festival. (AFP)

“I pictured these two dehumanized carrying machines — a Syrian refugee carrying heavy scrap metal on his shoulders, and carrying the load of the war that he witnessed, and this young lady who’s helping her ‘mister’ to walk,” Charaf tells Arab News. “I’ve seen these same two (people) on the streets round my bourgeois building in the posh neighborhood of Beirut where I live: two Sisyphus, two Atlases.”

But Charaf didn’t want to tell a straightforward love story. He’s not a straightforward filmmaker. “I’m a bit of punk,” he says. He is largely self-taught, and says he learned to direct “by watching movies,” particularly during his time in France, where he fell in love with arthouse cinema. “I would watch crazy movies,” he says. “Films that make you dream.”

Clara Couturet and Ziad Jallad in 'Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous.' (Supplied)

So there are fantastical elements running through “Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous.” Ahmed, for example, is afflicted by a mysterious condition.

“My wife’s a visual artist too — we’re big fans of (late horror actor) Bela Lugosi, Bauhaus (the German art movement of the early 20th century), (Japanese body-horror film) ‘Tetsuo’ … all kinds of crazy stuff,” Charaf explains. “So we came up with this metaphor of a guy whose arm is turning into metal because he’s seen the war and it’s corrupting him from the inside. This immense sadness is killing him from the inside.”

Ahmed’s condition is also inspired by Charaf’s own experiences. When he was nine, he says, he was badly wounded by an Israeli grenade. “I got shrapnel all over my body — I’ve still got some in my head, my legs. And it was, like, revenge for my body, expelling this metal. It’s happened a few times, I’ll expel shrapnel from the flesh.”

P​​​​​​roducers Pierre Sarraf and Katia Kazakh, film director Wissam Charaf, actors Clara Couturet and Ziad Jallad, and producer Marco Valerio Fusco posing on the red carpet before the MENA premiere screening of the Lebanese film ‘Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous’ on the fourth day of the festival in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on Dec. 4, 2022. (AFP)​​​​​​

Ibrahim (the name is a deliberate choice), meanwhile, is convinced he’s turning into a vampire and that he needs to drink the blood of young women — women like Mehdia.

“This is to show that there’s no more hope,” Charaf says. “Mehdia’s praying all the time in the film, but her prayers aren’t working. There’s this despair, you know? Even Ibrahim has turned into a senile old vampire.”

There is plenty of bleak reality in Charaf’s movie — particularly Mehdia’s “love-hate” relationship with her “owners.”

“I wanted to show the unconscious, everyday racism that is commonly practiced in Lebanon and in the Gulf,” he says. “I’m not hammering Arabs and saying ‘Look how bad we are.’ It’s more like, ‘This is how it is.’ It’s not good guys versus bad guys. It’s nuanced. She hates his guts, but she considers him like her dad. He’s the only dad she’s got. Before running away, she kisses him while he’s sleeping.”

But the film is not unremittingly grim. Charaf says his casting choices, for example, were very specific. “I wanted to assert that because you’re poor or a refugee doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be ugly or (look exhausted). I got the most handsome refugee and the most beautiful housemaid in the world.”

And there is laughter here too. “I didn’t want it to be a documentary or a tear-jerker, you know? Watching people suffer and cry is too easy,” he continues. “There’s a dual tone in the film. There are absurd situations where you really laugh. But to be able to laugh, you need despair — you need things to hit rock bottom. They have to grow so desperate that they can laugh about their situation. Otherwise, it’s indecent to laugh about their misery.”t


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The film debuted internationally in Venice, where it won the Europa Cinemas label prize, meaning it will be screened in arthouse cinemas across Europe — perhaps some of those same cinemas in which Charaf found early inspiration.

“That was pretty cool,” he says of his Venice win. “I think they thought, ‘Oh no — another film about Syrian refugees.’ Then they got surprised, because it’s fresh and new.”

He’s not sure how the film will be received when it does reach a wider audience. “Probably many people won’t get it,” he says. “Because it’s not a one-tone film. With my work, people either really like it or they hate it — and both are good (with me). It’s always been like that, and I think that’s a good sign — it means there’s consistency in my films.

DJ Khaled among starry guests at Red Sea International Film Festival awards ceremony

DJ Khaled among starry guests at Red Sea International Film Festival awards ceremony
Updated 09 December 2022

DJ Khaled among starry guests at Red Sea International Film Festival awards ceremony

DJ Khaled among starry guests at Red Sea International Film Festival awards ceremony

DUBAI: US Palestinian producer DJ Khaled capped his whirlwind Saudi Arabia trip with an appearance on the Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet on Thursday night, ahead of the event's awards ceremony.

DJ Khaled was spotted on the red carpet alongside big names like Thai star Mew Suppasit, Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan, Sweish American actor Joel Kinnaman, and Hollywood stars Antonio Banderas and Jackie Chan, and more. 

Last week, the popular DJ, rapper and record producer  made a surprise appearance at XP Music Futures in Riyadh, before his headlining performance at the region’s largest music festival, MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM 2022.

The musician sat down in a panel with music producer Larry Jackson and American rapper Fat Joe to discuss the global music industry, their experiences as experts in the field and the bright future of Saudi talent.


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The industry legend said at the event: “To come all the way to Saudi Arabia to be able to represent hip hop is a proud moment for me. I’ll speak from my own experience, coming from (being) in my garage with two turntables and a drum machine and a bunch of vinyl records to where I’m at now, it was something I knew I was going to do for the rest of my life.”

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Neom's Entertainment and Culture MD

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Neom's Entertainment and Culture MD
Updated 09 December 2022

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Neom's Entertainment and Culture MD

Cinema industry thrives with collaboration, says Neom's Entertainment and Culture MD
  • Neom to boost producers’ confidence with increased incentives

NEOM: From deep blue ocean and pristine beaches to lofty mountains, Neom’s unique geography and topography serves as a new epicenter for the region’s media, film and gaming production. 

Over the past 18 months, Neom Media Village and Bajdah Desert Studios have supported more than two dozen productions including the $153 million movie “Desert Warrior,” directed Rupert Wyatt.

The first Saudi movie “Within Sands” was filmed at Neom by one of Kingdom’s leading producers. “It’s in competition at the Red Sea International film festival and we’re hoping it wins one of the main prizes,” said Wayne Borg, managing director for Media Industries, Entertainment and Culture at Neom, told Arab News. 

“We also finished filming last week the upcoming Bollywood movie ‘Dunki,’ starring Shah Rukh Khan … and booked a 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera ‘Exceptional’ produced by MBC Group,” he said. 

Borg said Neom’s media hubs were impressive. “We have facilities, for instance, we have four sound stages, 2,500 square meters each,” he said.  

“Our studios are being built to be world-class production facilities with set production offices, construction warehouses, prop shops, wardrobe, and SFX facilities.

“Film and ancillary equipment including cameras, heavy-lift drones, telehandlers, boom lifts, scissor lifts and trackways are available on both sites.” 

Wayne Borg, managing director for Media Industries, Entertainment and Culture at Neom. (Supplied)

By the end of 2026, “Neom will have a full-fledged ecosystem” and the media hubs will be approximately 1 million square meters with “with somewhere between 45 and 50 sound stages, tenancy space, gaming, studio space, industry learning space,” said Borg. 

The Kingdom has boosted producer confidence with increased incentives. 

“We have a very competitive and globally attractive production incentive scheme where we offer a 40 percent plus cash rebate production incentive scheme for feature films, reality series, TV and commercials. At present, cast and crew are rolling from one production to the next,” said Borg. 

“We can handle between three and four productions at any given time and are starting to build our crew depth. And we help productions and assist in terms of bureaucracy and government services to create a streamline and as efficient process as possible with a team that understands what is needed so we can make it happen on budget and on time every time.

Borg said that directors and producers wanting to use Neom should “reach out to us, to the team, either online or through our website, and leave details. And we’ll be in contact with you to set up a meeting to discuss your project, what your needs are, and how we can help bring that production to life at Neom.” 

“We’re working to achieve a fully integrated media hub both physically and technologically, which will create huge opportunities. There’s been an inability for talent and creatives to come together previously and collaborate, and it is now clear that this industry thrives best in a collaborative environment. We want to give you a real red carpet, not a red tape experience.”