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An Abridged History of Stone Island

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Borne of the equally as historic and legendary sportswear line C.P. Company, Stone Island is the brainchild, and arguably the opus of Massimo Osti. Though he passed away in 2005, the legacy Osti left behind at his two companies was revolutionary to the development of clothing, both within and beyond the field of luxury sportswear. The brand has become hallowed in multiple subcultures, and endures as an unlikely, controversial, and undeniably iconic piece of fashion, transcending any traditional boundaries of clothing, and becoming a cultural icon.


C.P. Company and the Roots of Stone Island


Osti’s beginnings in fashion are fairly humble, considering that he was not educated in design nor did he start work in a creative team at a fashion house. Instead, he came to the industry by way of his graphic design roots, having worked first at an advertising firm before trying his hand at clothing. His first “brand”, which was more of a collection of printed t-shirts than a truly cohesive brand, was titled “Chomp Chomp”. However, it was with his work on this line that one of the first revolutions of Osti’s work came to be. He was amongst, and even claimed to have been the first, to transfer techniques formerly used for printing graphics on paper, to fabric. Now industry standard, at the time two of these techniques had been used almost exclusively outside of the realm of fashion. These are CMYK (Four Colour) and silkscreen printing. Though Chomp Chomp was Osti’s first foray into the field of fashion design in any significant way, it was a massive step for the field as a whole. Furthermore, it was a sign of the innovative outlook of Osti towards his new career, and would be indicative of the ethos he developed while at C.P. Company and Stone Island, one which permeates the entire industry.


It was after Chomp Chomp that he was asked to come aboard his first ‘real’ fashion brand. This brand was Chester Perry, the name of which was taken from a fictional company in the comic series Bristow, the work of British cartoonist Frank Dickens. The company itself was founded in 1971, however, it would be only a few years before a lawsuit related to the naming of the brand after Dickens’ work would force a name change. It would then be in 1978 that the brand would finally become known as C.P. Company, C.P. being the less-than-subtle acronymization of Chester Perry, with the mere addition of “Company”. In losing the name, lost too was the tie to the legacy of British sportswear, which was largely considered the most worthy of Europe, companies such as Mackintosh and Barbour becoming household names, and even synonyms, for certain revolutionary styles of casual, fashionable, and luxury sportswear across Europe. However, in losing this connection, there was a sense of liberation. It was now Osti’s task to create a new vision of sportswear in Italy which could be distinctly his own.

1981 promotional material for Bonneville's first collection

 

In 1981, Osti created his first independent line, Bonneville, named after the famous Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. It was this fascination with racing and speed that would guide Osti’s work at both labels, and indeed too at his other works after this. However, the name Bonneville concealed another, much more personal meaning, it being the name of a small French village where Osti’s 1944 Citroën Traction Avant broke down on a trip back from Paris. The name would eventually be changed to Bonneville Sporting Goods, and in 1987 Bonneville Navy Arctic would launch as a sub-line, which was inspired by the uniforms of the Italian Navy, and taking naval design features out of the realm of combat, and turning them into innovative technical luxury fashion. It would also be the year that C.P. Collection launched, another sub-line of C.P. Company. Though Bonneville would come to close down, it was a testing ground for some of Osti’s more experimental and “out-there” early work. It has since been relaunched.


The Beginnings of Stone Island until today


In 1982 however, Osti’s most enduring career move would come with the launch of Stone Island. The first collection of Stone Island, which was also initially launched via C.P. Company, was entirely composed of one material, a custom canvas inspired by the tarps used on the back of trucks (Tela Stella). It was a heavily resistant tonal fabric which achieved the unique look through being stone washed. Though Osti did not invent the technique (Which was invented as much as ten to thirty years prior), the transition of it from denim to other materials was new, and a common technique of Stone Island throughout the years to create unique garment patterns and treatments. The next years would include other fabric innovations such as Raso Ray (1983), which was a fabric obtained through the coating of a waterproofing rubber on a very fine cotton satin fabric, the Ice Jacket (1988), a jacket which changed colour alongside the temperature, and the Reflective Jacket (1991), a jacket made of material that adheres a very thin layer of glass microspheres to a waterproof fabric, which is able to reflect light sources, even very weak, with brilliant success. Many of the fabrics used by Osti, though often trademarked in specific, have become industry standards, including the use of taped seams and object dying, the first being the application of a fabric “tape’’ to the inside of seams to aid in waterproofing, and the latter being the dyeing of an object after the piece has been assembled, creating a dye pattern different than dying individual fabric pieces as is done traditionally.

Early make of Stone Island's "Ice Jacket"

 

In 1988 perhaps Osti’s most iconic innovation would come when C.P. Company became a sponsor of the Mille Miglia, Italy’s most premier racing event. The result would be his most iconic single creation besides perhaps the Stone Island compass; the Mille Miglia jacket, otherwise known as the “Goggle Jacket”, and produced in very limited quantities for Spring/Summer 1988. The jacket featured goggles, a design inspired by the work of the famous Italian opticians Baruffaldi, sewn into an extended collar, removing the need for external goggles often worn by racers. Further inspiration was taken from army jackets, especially the pocket system of Swiss army field jackets, and the protective hooding used by the Italian army. As a part of the sponsorship, both drivers and crews would wear clothing designed by C.P. Company for the 1988 race.

 

Osti would go on to leave C.P. Company in 1995, to focus more personally on Stone Island, as well as other side projects, such as Left Hand, which he started in 1993, and would be the among the very few forays into women’s clothing for him. He would go on to work with Stone Island until his death in 2005, albeit with varying levels of involvement. The current creative director, Carlo Rivetti, who took over from Paul Harvey in 2008, has been with the company in varying roles for decades himself, and has remained true to Osti’s vision for the brand. Rivetti’s own history is also in textiles, with his family involved in the industry since Rivetti’s grandfather in the late 19th century. Rivetti became involved in the company first in 1983, and would soon after become its owner, though retaining much of the original ethos and team. It is hard to determine a height of Stone Island’s popularity and importance, both insularly as far as it is concerned solely as a corporation, as well as how it relates to and shaped various subcultures.

 

Stone Island in Popular Culture


Though it is increasingly less common, perhaps the most historically significant ties that popular culture has had to the work of Osti is though clientele Osti never aimed to please. Far removed from the fairly refined, older Italian racers and Alpineers who the brand largely catered to, it’s most iconic ties are to the British (specifically English) hooligan and casual culture, as well as the youthful Italian Paninaro scene. The two cultures are largely related, though unique in their own right. Casuals act as a specific vein of hooligan, though both crowds are associated with the brand, whilst the Paninaro took Italy by storm in the 80s.

 

The name Paninaro is derived from "panini", Italian for "sandwhich", which was a name taken by the Paninaro in order to represent what they stood for in a sense, which was a total corporate modernity. During Italy's tumultuous and violent Years of Lead, which refers to the years between the late 60s to the late 80s, Italy was rocked with hundreds of high profile murders and bombings by both far left and far right groups, plunging the country into chaos. In opposition to either of these however, was the embrace of Western European liberalism, as exemplified by the Paninaro, who donned designer clothing from America, as well as home, notably, Stone Island. Though relatively far removed from the Ultras and hooligans of their home country, the brand established itself as a luxurious, casual, and mainstream label which was often times worn alongside other high end casual wear such as Ellesse and Sergio Tacchini. It was these Italian youth who were largely considered, alongside certain Italian ultras, the reason for British fans being taken with the brand.

Italian Paninaro in the mid 1980s

The true start of football hooliganism began around the same time as Osti’s work at Chomp Chomp, in the very late 60s, and early 70s, with the rise of firms and organised hooliganism. The rise of football hooliganism was not a uniquely English phenomenon, though, of course, with firms being organised across Europe. However, international leagues meant that teams travelled, and of course, with them, ultras, hooligans, and die hards. Already established alongside brands like Lotto and Fila in France by the 70s and 80s, C.P. Company and Stone Island were seen as the choice for Italian and French football hooligans. Archie Maher, owner of Arco Maher, one of the world’s largest private Stone Island archivists and vendors, attributed it thusly in an interview with Dazed;


"It started with English football fans travelling around Europe, where they would see these swanky Italian and French guys donning Stone Island, Fila and other sportswear brands”


It was particularly however in the 80s with the rise of “casual” hooliganism that brands like Stone Island truly became intertwined with the culture. Casuals often shirked previous trends of wearing club colours and insignia in favour of slightly less flashy and obvious clothing, supposedly to make it easier to avoid clashes with police, who were cracking down on hooliganism, and so it was easier to gain access to pubs and stadiums. Thus the youthful hooligan’s insignia was now that of Osti’s compass, which became immortalized as an unprosecutable sign of hooliganism through films, notably appearing in The Firm and The Football Factory. The phenomenon of hooliganism would become popular enough to come to the attention to then-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and become colloquially known as the “British Disease”. As with most youthful and rebellious movements, there was a certain phantasmagoria and image which came to be associated with the compass by the nation, one which was radically different than the Italian image of an older sportsman. What is important to note, and what one sees in older Stone Island advertising is that though Stone Island found niches in subculture, Osti almost never shot clothes on models before the 90s, instead favouring to shoot his work in minimal setups which did not pigeonhole the clothes themselves.

Police arresting hooligans during the 1985 Kenilworth Road Riot

It is thus that Stone Island was established as a brand in the United Kingdom, as one with a reputation that was utilitarian, storied, and in spite of being Italian, distinctly British in a very particular way. This is especially how the brand came to be known around the time of grime, which evolved from reggae, dancehall, and other Afro-British genres of music in and around the early 2000s, notably in London’s East End. Artists like Kano, D Double E, and Wiley, alongside groups such as Boy Better Know and Newham Generals led the charge in the popularization of grime, and one of the brands particularly dear to most artists, due to it’s cult status in history and in “chav” culture was Stone Island. It is particularly within the past decade that Stone Island has become a mainstay in grime, artists such as Skepta, Stormzy, Dave, and others donning the brand and including it in their lyrics. A similar phenomenon has also occurred in Slavic countries, due to the similar history of Russian, Polish, and other hooligans taking to Stone Island around the same time and in the same ways as British fans.

 

The shift of Stone Island from hooligans to rappers also corresponds to the trend that’s taken place amongst the audience of said artists, which has shifted the demographic of Stone Island from older, largely working class white British crowds, to a much more diverse, and often younger group, both of the artists themselves and the fans. It’s with this too that Stone Island has become desirable outside of Europe for the first time in a truly major way. Though Osti and C.P. Company have operated North American stores before, it is especially recently that the brand has broken ground in the continent, largely fuelled by Toronto artist Drake, who is in talks with the famous grime collective Boy Better Know, and has featured songs with many aforementioned artists, including Dave (Wanna Know) and Giggs (KMT). The brand also collaborated multiple times since 2014 with legendary skate brand Supreme, the output of which has gone on to cult status by itself, with certain designs including goggle jackets reminiscent of Osti’s Mille Miglia work at C.P. Company. It is at this point in the company's history that we find ourselves today; Stone Island opened a wildly successful pop-up in Toronto, a new 5,300 sq. foot location in Los Angeles (Their largest retail space), and an already established flagship in New York, as well as hundreds of stockists the world over, including 146 stores in the United Kingdom alone. 


The Stone Island Archive

 Though Osti passed in 2005, his work is collected in an archive in Italy, which is ever-expanding. At one point totalling over 60,000 items according to some sources. Much of the archive was sold in the late 90s, however, recently the archive has been, and is in the process of being rebuilt, largely from donations, acquisitions, and other methods of regaining older models of clothing. At present, over 5,000 items have been collected and stored. For each garment the category (collection garment, vintage, prototype or a personal piece of the Osti family), the collection from which they are a part, the gender (man, woman, child), the original name given by Osti (Ice Racket, Mille Miglia, Reflective Jacket, Navy Arctic, etc.), the season (spring / summer, autumn / winter), the year, any previous identification code, the type of print (stripes, camouflage, floral, solid colour), and descriptive details also including the composition of the fabric and the photograph of the product. The archive is an almost completely comprehensive display and catalogue of each piece within it, and it dates over the decades that it was assembled. However, it also includes prototypes and inspirational pieces from Osti's personal collections. As of the last official figure, the archive contains a wide selection of pieces representing Massimo Osti's activity, his prototypes and over 1550 vintage military items dating back to the first half of the 20th century, bought by Osti himself on the market and which inspired his collections. In particular, it consists of 1296 pieces of knitwear, 1104 coats, 785 trousers, 438 tops, 319 sweatshirts, 318 shirts, 98 underwear items, 79 dresses, 5 suits. The collection includes 1021 accessories such as military and work items (haversacks, backpacks, bags, helmets and protective caps, goggles, gloves, shoes and leggings) and other accessories and suitcases from the '30s and' 40s. 

 

Stone Island is shoppable via Common here, and Stone Island Shadow Project here.

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