Stone Island: A History Lesson From Football To Fashion
In 1983, in the town of Ravarino, near Modena, an Italian man by the name of Massimo Osti founded a company to explore the use of novel and experimental dyeing and garment treatment methods, and to serve as a research arm for his main label, C.P. Company. 35 years on, what ostensibly started as a garment laboratory has evolved into a truly international label, with hundreds of stockists around the globe, and legions of devoted fans ranging from fashion editors to football players, dames to drug dealers: Stone Island.
The Creation Of The Brand
Although the creation of Massimo Osti, Stone Island as we know it today owes its success largely to one man, Carlo Rivetti (pictured below). An historic and highly influential family in the world of Italian clothing, the Rivetti’s origins in the garment industry can be traced back to 1872, when Giuseppe Rivetti opened a wool factory, ‘Giuseppe Rivette e Figli’. The family’s association with textiles actually dates back further than Giuseppe, to his father, Giovanni Battista, the first man in Italy to operate a wool carding machine – but it was Giovanni’s descendants who would turn the company into one of the largest players in the Italian clothing industry.
Following the merger with GFT, the Rizetti’s began to innovate in the manner that they are now famous for: Pinot Rivetti – uncle of Carlo – had the idea of rubberizing wool in order to increase its performance, while Silvio, Carlo’s father, travelled to the United States after the Second World War, where he discovered a company, Palm Beach Incorporated. To Silvio’s amazement, PCI was producing clothes constructed on pre-determined measurements, or what we today call sizes. After six months in the US, Silvio returned to Italy and convinced his brothers to sell their shares in their wool factories in order to buy out GFT.
Osti’s Direction & Expansion
Fortunately, they acquiesced, and for the next two decades GFT became one of the main producers of clothing in the country, at one point employing more than 25,000 people, and making them the first company in Italy to introduce mass produced, pre-sized clothing. But the success was not to last, and with the oil crisis and subsequent recession of 1973, GFT and the Rivetti’s were faced with plunging sales and an uncertain future. It was around this time that Marco Rivetti discovered a French designer, Emanuel Ungaro, working at one of GFT’s subsidiaries, and decided to lead the company into its next phase, taking it into the world of prêt-a-porter. Initially fulfilling production for Ungaro, the Ravetti’s soon became licensees of both Valentino and Giorgio Armani, establishing GFT’s reputation as a producer and helping bring these now famous names around the world. The move was a success, and allowed the company to recover from its precarious position and adapt to an increasingly globalised world, ensuring its survival in the short-term, exactly what the Rivetti’s needed, and in 1975 Carlo Rivetti joined his family, intent on pursuing sportswear.
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It was in 1983 that Carlo came across C.P. Company and Massimo Osti, the creator of Stone Island. Osti had recently come into possession of a fabric known as ‘Tela Stella’, a material previously used to make tarpaulins for trucks. However, having no application for the fabric within C.P. Company, Osti founded Stone Island to explore the possibilities of Tela Stella, initially making just seven jackets. Heavily inspired by military wear and a love of the sea – the compass arm badge is a direct reference to military regalia and maritime pursuits, as well as a subtle allusion to Stone Island’s quest for research and discovery – the collection is now iconic, and established the core tenets of the Stone Island philosophy for decades to come, tenets that the brand still strictly adheres to. It also left a significant impression on Rivetti, as his own words prove: “Massimo was at least ten years ahead of the others in his field.” The two men enjoyed a close and fruitful relationship for over a decade, with designs from Osti’s tenure cementing the label’s reputation as an innovator and textile experimenter without peer.
Importantly, it was under Osti’s direction that Stone Island began to expand outside of its native Italy, and it was his forward thinking design that established its reputation overseas, initially with English football fans, or ‘casuals’ as they came to be known, who discovered Stone Island and other European sportswear brands while following their teams around the continent. And although this new legion of fans was instrumental in exposing Stone Island to a larger audience, the casual culture’s taste for violence tarnished the label with an association it is still struggling to shed decades later.
Branching Into England
But in 1995, Osti departed Stone Island in order to focus on other ventures, leaving the company in the ownership of Carlo Rivetti and his sister, Cristina. While many brands may have faltered or even folded following the exit of their founder and long-term designer, Stone Island was in the hands of a man whose family possessed a knack for foresight, fortitude, and a fair dose of good fortune. It was while strolling through Munich in 1994 that Carlo encountered the designer who was to become Stone Island’s future: his name was Paul Harvey, an Englishman, and Central Saint Martins graduate who, upon finishing his studies, opted to work as a truck driver instead. Indeed, Rivetti was doubly blessed, for in Harvey he not only found a designer to keep the label alive, but one who would help it thrive, who embraced its traditions and embodied them with a distinctive individual touch. In fact, Harvey’s commitment to the Stone Island ethos was so complete that, were it not for the knowledge of Osti’s departure, their output would be practically indistinguishably.
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Harvey’s willing and selfless adoption of his predecessor’s design language is yet another addition in the remarkable tale of Stone Island, a tale that seems to have unraveled parallel to, but very much apart from, the usual fashion circus. Even his tenure was anachronistic to the landscape he was surrounded by: very few designers spend longer than a couple of years under a label that is not their own. For 12 years and 24 collections, he guided Stone Island, blending its past with the present to form a vision for the future. Following his final collection, Harvey left, to “do something for the planet”, and the Rivetti siblings were again faced with the immense and unenviable task of finding someone to steer the brand – but in the true spirit of Stone Island, they decided to do something new, and since then Stone Island has been led not by one person, but by a design team.
Given that most design work at major labels is now carried out by a team of young graduates, this move was not only modern but practical: Rivetti was lucky in the utmost to encounter a man of Harvey’s skill and humility, and the likelihood of finding a similar individual, let alone one who could balance that work with the needs of a label with more than 20 years of impressive history, was slim. Beyond this, Carlo himself admits that, “It was necessary to be multicultural in order to be truly contemporary… I felt that in this era it is possible to face all aspects of a world only with several minds and several visions: and this is what Stone Island has been since 2008 to the present”.
The Impact Of The Brand Today
Although the contributions of Osti and Harvey could not, and should not, be forgotten, it is undeniable that Stone Island’s relevancy and recognition has never been greater than it is today. It is no longer just a niche obsession for football fans or textile tech-heads, but a truly global label with immense appeal, from the boroughs of North London to the streets of Sydney. And in spite of the remarkable success that the label has seen in recent years – in no small part due to cosigns from celebrities like Stormzy, Skepta, and the ever-circling culture vulture, Drake – there is a risk that the legacy and influence of Stone Island is being overshadowed by its nascent trendiness. The iconic arm badge, initially a representation of Osti’s love for the sea and novel discovery, has been reduced to naught more than an empty logo, splashed across Instagram and doubled, or even tripled, up on for the sake of fleeting internet recognition. Of course, all of this is of immense benefit from a business standpoint, but one has to wonder whether the heart and history of the brand is being forgotten amidst the slew of new customers.
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Luckily, there are those out there for whom the label’s resurgent popularity has provided an opportunity to educate, foremost of which is Archie Maher. Archie is a collector who focuses almost exclusively on designs from the Osti years – though he also has many stunning pieces from more recent seasons – and who has become the go-to man when it comes to acquiring rare Stone Island, with superstars like Drake tapping into his extensive knowledge and collection. Reading through interviews with Archie, you can tell that his love for Osti – who he describes as a ‘genius’ and ‘iconoclast’ – and the brand is genuine, and his persistent efforts and increasingly high profile give hope that the inspiring and innovative work of men like Massimo Osti, Paul Harvey, and Carlo Rivetti will be remembered long after the doors close in Ravarino.
Available to shop at Fabric, Trés Bien and other select stockists worldwide.
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Author: Nick Ainge-Roy