Fashion house Zegna launches fund to support Italian talent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:45am

When Europe was trapped in the Dark Ages, Italy offered the Renaissance. With Italy currently facing its own crippling crises, including financial uncertainty, a weak job market, high taxes and the ongoing one-man saga that is Silvio Berlusconi, a leading fashion house is hoping to spearhead the country's creative renewal by sending its brightest students overseas.

The Ermenegildo Zegna Group, famed for its impeccable suits, recently announced plan to set up a charitable scholarship that will channel funds from its lucrative fashion business to the continuing education of recent Italian graduates.

The students selected will have the chance to take on a master's degree, doctorate or other research at a university outside of Italy.

The fund is worth €1million (HK$10.8 million) a year over the next 25 years, and it isn't just limited to the world of fashion - applicants from any field of study can apply.

The fund will be known as the Ermenegildo Zegna Founder's Scholarship and its recipients as Zegna Scholars. Each successful applicant will receive up to €50,000 a year for up to three years.

Scholars will be selected by a panel that includes chief executive Gildo Zegna and Rosario Bifulco, chairman of the Sorin medical group. Their choices will be based largely on talent and a desire to contribute towards Italy's future.

And that's the key to the whole venture - a desire to foster home-grown talent. To hammer home this idea, the fund's scholars must be either Italian citizens or permanent residents.

In addition, while those selected must study outside Italy, they're expected to return and stay permanently after a period of working abroad.

At that time, the committee will help them find a job.

Those who choose to stay abroad must repay their scholarship, thereby allowing the fund to keep rolling and offer scholarships to other potential candidates.

"Offering a real, albeit partial, alternative to the so-called brain drain, is part and parcel of taking responsibility for the future of our country," says Gildo Zegna.

"Creating the conditions for a recovery, not just of the economy but of the whole of Italian society, depends not only on trends in the global economy, but also, on a more fundamental level, on our ability to offer talented young men and women a future here and now, so that their skills may create value."

It's a bold, fascinating move from the 114-year-old fashion house, and one that it is committed to for at least the next 25 years.

While Zegna's initiative may not be enough to spark another Renaissance, it is at least shining a spotlight on Italy as an important creative centre that is thinking ahead.