Stone Island is based not in Milan, but in the town of Ravarino in Emilia-Romagna, near the city of Modena in Italy. Why this is the case can be traced back to its original designer, Massimo Osti, a man revered in the world of fashion design as the creator of Stone Island.
‘He was a stubborn man,’ says Carlo Rivetti, president of Stone Island, of his late colleague Osti. ‘When we first started working together, he was in Bologna and I tried to persuade him to move to Milan, but he was not interested. Then he had a friend in Ravarino, nearby, so we moved there instead.’ But the location proved to be an advantage concedes Rivetti now, some four decades after the launch of the label in 1982. ‘It has meant that we are always outside of fashion. Stone Island is not fashion. It is much more about industrial design, engineering and function,’ he explains.
In black jeans and with his vintage, black Stone Island T-shirt displaying the firm’s compass motif across his chest, Rivetti is a striking figure. He looks much younger than his years, partly on account of his winning grin and twinkling eyes. He is a man who speaks with amusement and passion, and this translates into the clothes, which are consistently interesting on account of the huge amount of research that goes into them.
We start from the fabric,’ explains Rivetti. And over the years there have been numerous examples of how this has resulted in memorable pieces. The very first collection, by Osti, and the genesis of the Stone Island project, featured garments made from the military tarpaulin used on trucks. This cloth, christened Tela Stella, set a pattern for material innovation that 40 years later has seen such extraordinary feats as jackets made of bronze and stainless steel and even Kevlar, as well as the recurring Ice Jacket, thermosensitive pieces that change colour with heat.
There are Ice Jackets in the current collection, as well as Ghost pieces in monochrome, made from 100% organic cotton O-Ventile that’s waterproof yet breathable. Recurring series like Ice Jackets and Ghost products function almost like the evolving models of car manufacturers, and indeed Rivetti sees the motoring firms that are his neighbours near Ravarino (‘There are more car manufacturers here even than in Detroit,’ he says, before listing them: ‘Maserati, De Tomaso, Bugatti, Ferrari…’) as being his soulmates in design. ‘Industrial engineering is what we do,’ he explains.
It is the innovative – even geeky – aspect to the design that makes Stone Island pieces live outside of the trends of fashion. Osti in his book on design, Ideas from Massimo Osti, which is something of a design bible, said: ‘Clothing is too expensive to respond only to aesthetic requisites. It must also be functional and last for practically an eternity.’
‘We have had several designers since Massimo,’ says Rivetti, ‘but when you look at the archive, you see a consistency of approach. Today, the Ghost range is designed by a Japanese guy, while Stellina [a range characterised by high-performance and minimalist design and designated by a small, white star motif] is designed by a Ukrainian. People from two different cultures but there is a common look because the DNA is so strong. There is a unity.’
He says that he is amazed that though Stone Island ‘always speaks in the same way’ it manages to connect with new customers of different geographies and generations. A look at its history reveals that it has resonated with successive youth cultures, from the Milanese paninari (who, an amused Rivetti reminds me, were named after the sandwiches they ate), to football supporters – and footballers themselves – to musicians and their fans. Rivetti really feels there is a Stone Island community out there, united by a passion for the design of the pieces.
‘I remember when we opened our shop in Shanghai,’ recalls Rivetti. ‘I went there for the first day, before the opening party and there was a gentleman there who came from another city and worked in a bank. He’d taken the day off to come to Shanghai, and he greeted me with, “Welcome, Carlo”. He was wearing one of our jackets from the ’80s and he started explaining to me how it was made, with real passion. All our customers seem to have this passion.’