It’s the last Monday of September. I have a missed call from a number starting 007, the international prefix for Russia as well as the code for James Bond. Mysterious. I finish the first espresso of the day and get back to production duties. We are in the final planning stages for next summer’s 2013 fashion shoot. Having presented the collection in our new showrooms in Milan earlier this year, we decided to shoot in Nice and Juan-les-Pins, taking advantage of the ambience of the Côte d’Azur, the sea and the sailing yachts.
Tuesday, 25th September
A text appears on my phone while I am mid-espresso at my usual café: “Take a conference call coming through from Russia via the Milan press attachée: it’s Mercedes Benz looking for you.” Back in March 2012 we’d had an invitation to take part in the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week event in Russia. A terrific invitation at any time, it was even more special for having come directly from Mercedes-Benz’s head offices in Russia: “Pal Zileri is our brand of choice, to depict the lifestyle and timeless individuality of our men.” We brainstormed the concept and plans: invites, model castings, locations, hotels, dinners, press, clients, images, Tweets, guests lists. Then, we panicked. Who could do all of this for us, in Russia and in fluent Russian?!
Friday 28th September
After much discussion, we decide that this won’t be a “statement” runway show. There won’t be the hype of Milan or London. We have a very important, very serious following in Russia. The looks shown will focus on commercial pieces and wearability – our easy yet elegant, classic Italian style. Everything will be on sale at the store in Moscow.
Monday 1st October
Waiting at the dentist for a late appointment I take an update call from the London press attachée. She’s been following up an idea I suggested of bringing three key business and lifestyle journalists to Moscow. There are budget problems, and travel dates clash all round. Her weekend has been spent trying to make dates work out. She tracked down one journalist via Facebook while he was in New York, and met another at Little House in Mayfair (squeezing this meeting in between welcoming guests to her home, and then dashing back to serve them dinner). She met the third after his Sunday morning swim at a pool in Hurlingham.
Friday, 5th October
The logistics of shipping 60 menswear looks becomes a real challenge. We have to recall important key samples from press offices all over the world to fit our models in Moscow. Their ideal heights and measurements are sent over. We select sharp tailoring and skinny-styled trousers, a mix of edgy and classic clean-cut tuxedos – a favourite in Russia – and a range of pieces from our Lab line, for a younger urban look.
Thursday, 18th October
Alarm clocks are set for 4.30am to get to Venice airport for the flight to Vienna, then on to St. Petersburg, and finally to Moscow. All our extra suitcases, filled with “just in case” tuxedos, are taken to the over-sized luggage belt. We hope they’ll make it to their final destination. A sudden panic: where are the two boxes filled with Pal Zileri silk/cashmere scarves? They aren’t here. The scarves are the most vital accessories for the show. We contact our office in Vicenza – pandemonium ensues. Gemma, our production guru, makes the necessary calls, spelling awkward Russian addresses so that the consignment will find us in Moscow.
Friday, 19th October
We land early. The flights and connections are smooth and Gemma has calmed down after a few G&Ts. En route, we spot a few colleagues heading in from London and Milan, and they are all very fired up. A few have shown in Moscow before and agree that it’s a very dynamic platform for fashion right now. We are met by our translator from Georgia, who sweeps us through security and on to the line-up of sleek, black, factory-new Merdedes-Benz cars waiting for us outside. We are treated like the kings of fashion.
As we drive, I go online to browse the online Pal Zileri e-store, which launched earlier in the week. It’s been an exacting task to get everything right. We’re a very traditional Italian brand and have always focused on the skills of our suits and bespoke menswear, but building that brand online is crucial now too. In the UK, we are in the final stages of a plan – two years in the making – to give Pal Zileri more of an online presence, tying in with the tenth birthday of our London store this year.
We arrive at one of Moscow’s oldest and most beautiful hotels, the Radisson Royal Hotel, and have a quick brunch-style breakfast at Nababbi. In the lobby afterwards, I bump into the London-based designer Jenny Packham. I’m still very anxious about the presentation, but Jenny reassures me that showing in Moscow is no different from New York or London. I head off to the casting session. We have only an hour to fit and cast 25 models.
Our translator hands us an address book with several places circled, and in the margin, the time of day to be at each and what to expect. Dinner is scheduled on Saturday for 9pm at Barashka, and will, apparently, be “fun, colourful and delicious”. And on Sunday we’re set to eat at Mari Vanna – a restaurant that’s notoriously impossible to get into.
Saturday, 20th October
We are wiped out by all the VIP treatment and colourful Moscovita cocktails from the night before. Everyone has a nagging hangover. The club was great, from the live entertainment to the dress code (most of the men sported tuxedos).
We discover that the online Pal Zileri store, only a week old, already requires more stock. It’s a nice problem to have, but the timing’s not great! Thousands of megabytes go up and down the airwaves as we cross-check total looks and reference numbers for the suits and shirts to be uploaded onto the site. It has to be done in three hours – and at exactly the same time, we receive emails with new images of the Juan-les-Pins shoot, which we did last month, which need to be signed off.
Monday, 22nd October
When we pass the Kremlin, it feels as if we are on a James Bond set. After the short taxi run from to the Pal Zileri store – right next to Louis Vuitton on Red Square – to Manège, where we are showing, we have the usual tourist haggle with a taxi driver trying to charge us four times the fare.
It makes me quite emotional to see the real disparity between the lives of the models – who are all desperately poor – and the show we’re doing.
At Manège, model-chaos reigns. Suitcases, Diet Cokes and shoes litter the floors. None of the models have brought portfolios – some have brought just a single photograph. When at last the casting is done, the models are fitted by our chief Moscow tailor, Yvan Yvanovic, who has come with four tailors from the Pal Zileri store on Red Square.
None of the boys can go home before the show because they all live more than three hours from town. Few people live in central Moscow: it’s far too expensive. It makes me quite emotional to see the real disparity between the lives of the models – who are all desperately poor – and the show we’re doing.
The queue for the show is orderly and demure. Guests stream in and sit down in an orderly fashion – there is nothing of the hysteria of Milan or London. I go backstage. The stylists are at action stations: belts are whipped out from one pair of trousers and put into another to keep tones in sync. The silk/cashmere scarves are styled with unstructured jackets.
The music kicks off, and my friend DJ Dimitri, who has come over from Paris, sets the scene with the theme from the movie Drive. We’re ready to roll. Navy blue suits are sent out with classic dark brown shoes, and a slim-line black suit – one of the most popular items in the Moscow store – is worn with black leather buckle shoes. For the finale we go for 007 chic. I choose twins, Dimitri and Vitaly, to take the runway to close the show, one in a tuxedo, the other in tails. Manuela Miola, Pal Zileri’s Director of Communications, is delighted and excited about streaming the show internationally through the online store.
My biggest surprise comes from the models. Before the show they’d been so retiring and apprehensive, but on the catwalk they really come to life. Their pace is perfect and they absolutely look the part. The energy and applause from the 600-strong audience is electric.
Pal Zileri, 125 Bond Street, London W1 UK
020 7493 9711; uk.palzileri.com
Pal Zileri’s show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Moscow can be streamed online here.
To enter the Pal Zileri x CIVILIAN tailoring competition, subscribe to Civilian below. The winner will be notified by email after the competition closes on 15th December. The prize consists of £5,000 of made to measure tailoring, from Pal Zileri’s London store. The winner must be able to attend fittings at the London store. No cash alternative is available.