Stone Island is one of those rare brands that inspires absurd levels of devotion in its customers. Like Supreme, Nike and Jordan, guys are happy to throw their entire bank accounts at the Italian label just to add that one *essential* piece to their already massive collections. The brand inspires such crazy loyalty in people because it offers a unique combination of a rich, vibrant history and next-level innovation. Stone Island (or “Stoney” as it’s affectionately known in the UK) uses insane fabrics that make its garments change color, glow in the dark or look like they’ve been worn for decades.
The architect of Stone Island’s iconic place in menswear was Massimo Osti. The Italian designer revolutionized the fashion industry from the ’80s onwards, and was using innovative techniques to create high-performance menswear 30 years before anyone ever said the word “athleisure.” Osti’s work attracts obsessive fans who fetishize his creations in all their forms: whether it’s for Stone Island, C.P. Company, Left Hand Productions or the ultra-rare World Wide Web label.
Osti sadly passed away in 2005, leaving behind a vast archive of groundbreaking garments, designs and fabrics. Massimo’s son, Lorenzo, has carried on his father’s work — he’s now the marketing director for C.P. Company — and recently took part of his family archive to display in London to coincide with the relaunch of the Ideas From Massimo Osti book. The 432-page archive is a must-have for Osti fans, and is jam-packed with sketches, photos and ramblings on the design legend’s work.
Highsnobiety was given the unique opportunity to speak with Lorenzo, and rather than do a simple Skype call or email interview, we got our favorite Stone Island mega-fan, Ollie Evans, to head down instead. Ollie runs Too Hot Limited, a London-based archive of vintage bangers that sells archival Stone Island, C.P Company and other Osti-affiliated labels, alongside treasures from the likes of Burberry, Moschino and Prada. He is a next-level Osti fan, and also contributed to our in-depth history of Stone Island.
What was it like growing up in Bologna?
It was very exciting, I’ve been very lucky, the place was very active from a cultural point of view, and we were in the middle of all of that. My father was already quite successful and all our friends were musicians and artists. Our house was an open house — not kidding, at dinner time people would ring us and say “is there something to eat here?” So every day from Monday – Sunday there were 10 people at home.
As a small child I remember I never wanted to go to sleep — it was very exciting. I’ve been very lucky with everything that happened to my father and his work and for being in that environment at that time. It was very stimulating.
Did you spend a lot of time in your father’s studio as a child?
Only after he moved to a studio close to our house. For the first 10-15 years of his career he was working where the company was based in Ravarino, where the factory is. He founded C.P. Company and what is now called Sportswear Company [the manufacturers of modern Stone Island] in Ravarino. He was going there everyday before I woke up and coming back when I was asleep.
I used to see him one or two days a week, but after that, when he was tired with his life, he moved back to the office close to our house [Massimo left C.P. Company and Stone Island in 1995]. I used to spend full days there playing with the Xerox copier and fabrics, it was super fun.
What was the creative process like there?
From a creative point of view he was pretty much by himself, but I always remember people running around him bringing him things — try this, do that.
Did you take you take a lot of samples for yourself?
It was a playground for me. When I used to visit the company in Ravarino I was usually provided with a big plastic bag and I could take whatever I wanted. It was like running to the shop and taking whatever you want without paying, “oh this I’ll take in blue, yellow,” and of course it was a bit of a waste sometimes. I was 10 years old! I remember going back with bags full of garments that I couldn’t even lift up.
How did your father’s background as a graphic designer affect his approach to fashion?
His career in fashion started from a graphic design perspective. He was asked to design some T-shirts for a brand called Anna Gobbo. It was extremely successful, they sold very well, so they made another collection and another. Then he started experimenting with garment dying on the T-shirts because he didn’t like it when the print was standing out too much — he thought “let’s start to dye this.” Then from the T-shirt to the shirt, to the pants — and everything was born.
Graphics remained very influential for his entire career because he was used to being a communication person. He was used to taking care of all the communication of the brand by himself. All the catalogues were made at the studio, all the graphic design was made here, everything under his direct control. He was developing the garments, but at the same time he was overseeing all the communication, catalogues and advertising.
Your father’s garment technologies and innovations revolutionized the industry. Which one do you think had the most impact?
I think it’s the garment dying. I don’t want to say invention, he didn’t literally invent it, garment dying has existed forever. If you have an old garment and you want to cover a spot, you dye over it. But he made it a systematic industrial process and brought it to a level that had not been possible to imagine before: dying leather, multiple materials and all of these things.
His other fabric inventions like Raso Ray (polyurethane-coated cotton) and Tinto Capo (the dying technique) are good, and important, but they didn’t have this wide influence that garment dying had. Garment dying really changed the look of the garment, from stiff and out-of-the-box to worn-in and casual. It really created this contemporary sportswear look, and of course everyone else adopted it.
Military technology and design were huge influences on your father’s work, where did this interest stem from?
He wanted to study military and workwear because everything is there for a reason, every element has a function, there is no aesthetic stuff, no decoration. He also said he wanted to study the fabric of military garments because they don’t have problems with budget, they don’t have the problem that the garment can’t cost more than a certain amount. They just go for the highest performing thing they can find, so he said that it was the perfect inspiration for him.
From there he started sending people to go and buy vintage military and workwear clothing — first it was my mother, then he had someone dedicated to that. They used to come to London two or three times a year to go to old markets, buy everything they found interesting and ship it back to Bologna to the archive.
How did the archive get to the point we’re at today?
At a certain point of his life he was ready to leave the industry. He didn’t want to design anymore and he decided to sell the whole archive to Mr. David Chu, the owner of Nautica, but then he didn’t really quit. At that stage the archive was 38-39,000 items — huge, too much! It was a problem for us to manage, we had 25 industrial containers parked outside and it was almost impossible to go through things one-by-one. It was a bit overwhelming so he decided to get rid of everything.
As a family we have a collection of really key garments at home, so my father started bringing these again to the studio. He needed something to work on for his small projects, so he started to collect again. After that he worked for Levi’s (Industrial Clothing Division), he made the WWW (World Wide Web) project, the Superga project. So he went back to buying some old vintage military stuff because that stuff was missing, so we rebuilt the archive, he went on doing that and now we have roughly 5,000 garments.
I think the heart of the archive is not the garments. The garments are nice, but the Rivetti family and Sportswear Company have a much, much bigger archive than us. C.P. Company’s archive is much bigger than our archive, but we also have a huge fabric archive of samples — more than 55,000 sample pieces of fabric.
Also we have the paper archive. We kept all my father’s designs, all the Xerox copies, it’s all categorized. You will see this in the book, it’s the most interesting part because the garments are nice but everyone else owns them.
You’ve just published a second edition of the Ideas From Massimo Osti book. How did you go about collating all that archive material into one book?
It almost cost my mother a nervous breakdown! I’m kidding but she made it, she made most of the effort. It took four years, because when my father passed away, honestly nothing was categorized. He passed and we went into the studio, everything was left as it was the day before — we had to go through everything paper by paper. “This is bullshit, this is good.” Then my mother out of all this started to create a story.
We decided how we could talk about what my father did — so many, many things. We drew three main blocks, inside one is the history of the brands, the other one is the fabric innovations, another part is the way he reinterpreted the classic menswear shapes. Then there is a side part of off-work or collateral projects that my father was very active with; he was designing some furniture, he was doing some politics.
There has been a recent resurgence of interest in your father’s work, thanks in part to the Stone Island x Supreme collabs which reimagined his original designs. What has it been like to see a new generation discover his work?
I don’t see it that way. Possibly you’re right, but I don’t see my father’s hand too much in that. I think it’s been a very interesting move because it’s allowed Stone Island to really talk to another audience and they have been extremely successful doing that, so I think it’s a good operation.
There has also been a recent explosion in interest in vintage items designed by your father. What is it like to see his original work back in the spotlight?
Very exciting and surprising, because I understand that the people who saw the first era of the brand remained in love with it, but seeing new generations passionate about it has been a surprise for us. From one side there was all this revamp of the ’80s and at the same time, at least in Italy, there was a resurgence of authenticity and individuality. Probably people see more of this in the Osti products from that era. More authenticity, and the possibility of collecting vintage things that are really different from the rest of the crowd.
Your father’s brands have always appealed to youth subcultures, Paninaro in Italy, Casuals in the UK and now an American streetwear audience. What is it about his work that appeals to these groups?
We knew about Paninari because it was a really mainstream phenomenon in the ’80s and we were selling so much thanks to them. It was not like this for the terrace casual culture. I never had a conversation with my father about it, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t know about it; he knew the brand was loved in the UK but nothing more. My father was not even English speaking, and it was not as easy as it is today with the internet to get that close to the end consumer.
I discovered all of this when I started to promote the archive, because I had never worked with my father directly. I really avoided that, we had a short experience — one year in production — but I really ran away, it’s terrible to work with parents, don’t do it! [laughs]
When my father passed away I had to take care of some his business, and I discovered this UK subculture — people were writing, wanting to visit the archive, to pay homage. I started relationships with some of them and discovered all about it, and it’s been amazing. Honestly it has been the engine for us to do the book and all of this.
When we saw there were people who were so truly, deeply passionate about our father, we really felt touched. In Italy it is not like that: regular people know nothing. We have all this treasure here, there are people who really love this, so we thought let’s do something about it, and all this started.
What is it about your father’s work that inspires such devotion in people?
I don’t know, this is really a phenomenon. I have no answer to that. Why the Paninari adopted us is a mystery. My father could not be further away from that kind of culture! It was a total mainstream culture, about adopting brands without thinking and everybody dressing the same. From the casuals I had a feeling it was really a passion about Stone Island, they felt the authenticity and the passion that my father put into everything he was doing. Somehow they got this, they could identify with it.
For more reading, check out Dear Americans, Here’s What You Need to Know About Stone Island.
Joseph Lau / Highsnobiety.com