The Business Times

Striking out on his own

Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis is the new face of Ermenegildo Zegna's #WhatMakesAMan campaign.

Helmi Yusof
Published Fri, Apr 16, 2021 · 05:50 AM
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IN ONE HALF OF HIS GENE POOL, there's preeminent actor Daniel Day-Lewis whose searing portrayals of complicated men (Abraham Lincoln, Christy Brown, Gerry Conlon, among others) have earned him a record three Oscars for Best Actor, beating Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson.

In the other half of his gene pool, there's legendary actress Isabelle Adjani, the only person to have won five Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of Oscars) for five remarkably varied performances across a span of genres including horror, thriller, contemporary drama and historical drama.

One might think that Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis - the only child from the marriage of the two actors from 1989 to 1994 - was born for the cinema. But the 26-year-old is striking out on his own as an accomplished model, singer, songwriter and the new face of Ermenegildo Zegna's #WhatMakesAMan campaign.

Since 2019, the luxury Italian menswear label has been assessing society's concept of manliness and the traditional criteria for masculine virtues. In its previous #WhatMakesAMan campaign, it selected black Muslim American actor Mahershala Ali and Hong Kong singer-entrepreneur Nicholas Tse to promote the image of men who don't shy away from exploring and questioning their strengths and weaknesses.

Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis is the perfect new face for Zegna's Spring/Summer 2021 campaign. Besides being an entertainer who's often landed on lists of best-dressed men, he's also deeply introspective: In his 2013 song Green Auras, he expresses his personal confusion over societal expectations of masculinity: ''The mornings when I'm sad…/ Self-medicating cause my heart and my throat hurt / Trying to understand what it means to be a man...''

In a recent interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, he says he grew up, like other boys, ''sort of programmed to think that a man needs to be strong, he can't cry, he should be the caretaker... But I think I broke out of that understanding at a pretty early age.''

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Fortunately for him, he had Adjani and other female figures playing a central role in those formative years: ''I was surrounded by a lot of women as a child… I think that, for me, shaped my idea of what a man was like: To be respectful, and to be kind.''

For the Zegna campaign, Gabriel-Kane appears against a backdrop of lush rolling hills, wearing a succession of outfits in earthy tones and comfortable silhouettes. The location is inspired by Oasi Zegna, a free-access nature park stretching 100 sq km from Trivero to the Biella Alps in Italy. In the 1930s, long before ''sustainability'' became a buzzword, brand founder Ermenegildo Zegna had made a pioneering environmentalist statement by planting more than 500,000 trees to reforest the area.

Adjani also makes an appearance with him in the Zegna campaign film, looking chicly androgynous in a dark Zegna suit. In lovely French-accented English, she says: ''(Gabriel-Kane) is very sensitive to beauty in painting, sculpture and clothing, of course… Behind the boy that's sometimes rebellious and really stubborn, there is so much wisdom and beautiful philosophy about love and kindness and generosity.''

Zegna's idea of masculinity, however, extends beyond the idea of the introspective, creative, well-informed man. The second part of its 2021 campaign features popular Chinese actor Li Xian and the virtual female influencer Noonoouri side-by-side having a conversation. They discuss what modern masculinity means to them - him affirming that a man must have ''an open heart to accept differences, a strength in vulnerability'', and her opining that a man ''needs to be curious about the world.''

Though she's a digital avatar, Noonouri counts Kim Kardashian and Charlize Theron among her fans, and has made sustainability the centre of her social causes. Several of her Instagram posts feature uplifting eco-conscious messages, echoing Zegna's own commitment to the environment through its continuing use of upcycled or reworked #UseTheExisting fabrics. As Noonoouri states in an Instagram post: ''It's more than time we move from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature.''


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