As a mere adolescent he cut his teeth at Cerruti, where he was reported to have shown a prodigious affinity for fabrics. From there he joined Armani in his men’s design studio; an experience one can only assume steeped him in the house’s codes: a retro classicism accentuated by a rigorous pursuit of modern masculinity. In 1995 he moved on to Prada and Miu Miu, think tanks for progressive fashion design, first heading up fabric R&D before getting involved in the design of Miu Miu’s men’s and women’s collections. He eventually found himself at Yves Saint Laurent, poached by Tom Ford to be lieutenant in the Texan’s campaign to reestablish the house as a vital and potent commercial force.
In 2004, with Ford and De Sole departing Gucci Group, Pilati found himself in what was then, and perhaps is still now, the most harassed high profile job in fashiondom: creative steward of the legacy of Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent. His take on Saint Laurent glamour and seduction was met with mixed reactions, earning due praise from the major magazines yet still hit by critics and those close to the house’s history. And though at many junctions he managed to stun and at times astound his critics with impossibly elegant and subversive collections brimming with moods and ideas that could propel a whole industry a decade forward with the weight of a single look, his tenure was still met with reluctant acceptance. His departure in 2012 was preceded by several seasons with what must have been defeating and esteem-crushing rumors of his eminent firing.
To say that Pilati was too intellectually inclined for the modern fashion game of masstige and profit margin hustling is an understatement. And one can even wonder if he channeled the house’s spirit as aptly as he could have (a fondness for color and the exotic were, along with being commercially viable, just some of the codes of the house that Pilati largely ignored). It wouldn’t even be unfair to say that Pilati’s influences, or at least the affections of his designs, skewed more Italian than French, more – let’s say – Gianfranco Ferre than Yves Saint Laurent. But what has been certain is that despite his translation of whichever house’s spirit, Pilati’s output has been profound. He has been a game changer and has introduced so many ideas that have only recently become a part of the contemporary fashion repertoire. He broached minimalism long before Phoebe Philo made it the mode at Celine. He tackled the volumes of Golden Age couture well before Raf Simon’s three part thesis on the matter at Jil Sander. And let’s not forget to thank him for the peplum, a silhouette he proposed with his debut and would reiterate throughout the years and that has now, finally, saturated the market at every tier. His accomplishments are undeniable and the only shame is that the impossible expectations placed on him at Saint Laurent eclipsed them.
Tomorrow Pilati debuts his first effort for Ermenegildo Zegna. To be overly sentimental it marks a return to his roots, back to the world of fine Italian menswear where he began as a young man. It is only fitting that a man who began at Cerruti and Armani would come back to Zegna, the oldest of the modern Italian menswear establishment. Pilati has always displayed a deft skill at continental style, often enhanced with his own unbridled and bold modernism, it’s a natural fit with immense potential. There has been little noise or hype leading up to the debut but this author can only assume it’s because the clothes won’t need it.