A Stone Legend…

by Marc Butterworth

 

The fashion industry recently suffered a huge loss when Massimo Osti, creator of the Stone Island and CP Company brands, died aged 59. Osti was certainly not a designer whose name struck a cord with everyman on the street, but within the fashion industry and on the especially fashion conscious football terraces around the UK, his position as one of the biggest innovators in men’s clothing in the late 20th century is unrivalled. So how did Bolognas favourite son become such a big deal?

Massimo Osti began the Chester Perry Company back in 1974 in Italy. A former graphic designer who had turned his hand to printing t shirts, he had a vision of straight laced, well made goods that would turn heads (as well as empty pockets). The Chester Perry name originates from a little known comic strip whose central character, Chester, was always coming up with innovative ideas to improve his work place, but went unheard.  With a discreet logo of a workman, the cut and in particular the quality of the materials used in the clothing ensured that those who knew good garments in the fashion industry quickly learned of the brand. It also stood out as different because the designs concentrated on the dying process and material creation rather than working from patterns as was tradition in the fashion industry at the time.

 

There was a slight teething problem however – the name bore too much resemblance to the tennis label which was so popular around Britain at the time, Fred Perry; following a court order a hasty name change was brought about. The brand shortened its name to become C.P. Company, and the label continued to churn out quality garments, with outerwear winning particular favour with the fashion going public in Italy , but it wasn’t to be long before the rest of Europe, and Britain in particular, would be getting into Massimo’s creations.

 

In the early 80’s Osti wanted to take his creations down a more casual line, but he found the smart aura of C.P. Company slightly too constricting for what he had in mind. He had been using innovative materials, and was slowly but steadily edging into the science of what material could be used with each season that passed. While his garments were simple yet effective, they were most definitely at the smarter end of the casual wear spectrum. Massimo however wanted to be able to express one of his favourite influences into a clothing label, and that huge influence was the military.

 

 

Now here was something that had never been tried before. Armed forces uniform has always centred on being practical and functional, yet no one had tried to bring this together with a line of clothing. The rumour is that Massimo Osti named this new concept after his fishing boat, which was called Stone Island. True or not, the brand launched in 1982 called Stone Island Marina, certainly seemed to draw from a sea faring influence in its very name. The brand stuck instant accord. Taking some influence as well from a book he was reading, “Isola Di Pietra”, the brand made itself unmistakably military not just by its cut and look but also its deft use of a compass logo. While on t shirts and shirts a simple four pronged compass star would appear, a now famous black rectangular patch with the compass at the centre and circled by Stone Island lettering would appear on knits and jackets. Initially this patch was placed near the cuff of the left sleeve, but due to the impractical nature of this catching and a slight lack of vision, the green edged patch was moved to the top of the left arm of all garments.

 

It didn’t take long for Stone Island Marina to gain favour – Jones of London, a legendary fashion emporium, was the first to have its finger on the pulse and imported the first few pieces of Stone Island in the UK. And while the garments they had were outstanding, a cut literally apart from anything else being done, they had a hefty price tag to match – a piece of knitwear would cost over a hundred pounds, quite a lot in prime Thatcher Britain. But the price was justifiable – a piece could be worn years after it was first purchased and still be in superb condition due to the excellent workmanship.

 

 

The company manufacturing these creations, Sportswear SPA, were on to a winner with Massimo’s work. He still felt a need for a different expression and launched the cult Boneville label which similar to C.P. Company took a smart fashion direction. In the meantime, Stone Island was bringing Massimo’s way of thinking to a new audience who were longing for good smart casual wear, and in Britain it began by the football fanatics that graced terraces up and down Britain.

 

There is a long history of argument among football fans as to who at what club were the first to be wearing Stone Island. From the bandits of Portsmouth to the scallies at Liverpool, while London was the epicentre for Stone Islands first stockists in the UK the brand was more readily available in Italy, and there was a bigger selection of garments to boot. With this in mind it is certainly true that a very select few who led the way with risk taking at clubs throughout the country, those who were making the journey to Europe to stay ahead in the fashion stakes, were the first in rather than one club en masse. With many British clubs taking part in European matches and the decreasing cost of continental travel, there was a new option from the increasingly common adidas and Lacoste labels. And those wearing Stone Island, and some in C.P., would certainly have stood out on the terraces back in the 80’s. These expensive, hard wearing, understated and innovative garments would become a staple in football casual culture – indeed they needed to be hard wearing as to this day the brands are heavily associated with football violence.

 

 

Another huge innovation easily overlooked was Osti’s use of the stonewash process in denim, copied by an endless line of denim manufacturers to date. But smart knitwear and t shirts weren’t enough – there was a big market for good outerwear and this is where C.P. Company and Stone Island in particular excelled as the brands reached maturity in the late 80’s. Osti was engrossed in merging technology and fashion, and this came to the fore in the use of fabrics in outerwear. At first jackets were created for C.P. Company using stainless steel material, a process still used by the brand today some 20 years later. But the military influenced Stone Island provided a much greater opportunity for ridiculous innovation, and so Massimo created the first Stone Island Ice Jackets.

 

Based initially on camouflage colour schemes, Ice Jackets used materials which were temperature sensitive – they changed colour according to the heat. The summer versions were most commonly seen, but the much rarer long winter versions incorporated a fur lined hood. There were also half zip jackets which steered away from the camouflage colour scheme. The innovation did not end there. Waterproofing was another important part of outerwear, and with this in mind Osti initially came up with rubber based materials for jackets which became on occasion too sticky, so he developed a coated form of cotton which with a glossy appearance had tremendous water repellent qualities. Another classic coat to appear during this period used glass beads in small amounts in the material giving a bright reflective nature under light.

 

In this time Stone Island Marina was largely replaced by the more effective and simple Stone Island title although some pieces still carried the Marina logo. But Stone Island was not the exclusive outlet for Massimo’s biggest innovations. At the same time Massimo released the Mille Miglia jacket, inspired by the car race of the same name which took between cities in Italy. This jacket incorporated goggles into the hood which cold flip down over the eyes when the hood was extended, and with a clear circular watch viewer in the arm to make telling the time easier. As with so many of Massimo’s creations the Mille Miglia has more than stood the test of time and more items from C.P. Company are made now incorporating the goggle idea than were 15 years ago.

 

But by 1994 Massimo parted ways with Sportswear SPA, leaving his post as creative director of both brands, with the cult Boneville label ceasing production. The reason for Osti leaving remains unclear, but those in Britain who came to work for Osti in later years would claim that the amount of work he put into the brands was not reflected in his salary. It would have been easy for Osti to retire with his work having been done – his huge influence had changed the way the fashion world thought. We would not have brands like Griffin, Maharishi, or 6876 without Massimo’s influence. Indeed in quite an Osti-esque show of humility, the creative director behind the 6876 Kenneth Mackenzie, turned down an offer of taking his innovations to the Sportswear SPA labels.

 

Stone Island and CP Company had their work cut out to find an heir to the throne, and initially they managed to find someone who could fill the big boots Osti left behind. Middlesbrough based designer Paul Harvey done a fantastic job in taking over Stone Island where Osti left off, and many more seasons of excellent understated knitwear and outerwear continued, while CP Company’s new designer Moreno Ferrari came up with the Urban Protection concept in the late 90’s. The jackets from this collection used heavy duty materials but each item brought a twist. The “Metropolis” had a built in Smog mask, the “Rem” a tape recorder, and the spectacular “Move” had a harness with a fold away scooter.

 

While this was going on, Massimo created a series of now cult labels which continued an understated look. World Wide Web and ST 95 did not make a big impact, but Left Hand in the late 90’s left a great impression with excellent outerwear collections. It was not long before Osti was snapped up by the Levi’s brand to lead a project for them. Faced at the time by fierce competition in the denim world, Levis sales had flagged and producing the same denim was not enough in a competitive market place. The innovations Osti put in place arguably spurred on Levis to what it has become today, a denim producer proud of its heritage (reflected in its premium vintage label) but also an innovator who could come up with ideas like twisted denim.

 

With Massimo’s inspiration of fusing technology and clothing, he came up with the Levis ICD+ Courier jacket boasted an integrated MP3 player, mobile phone, headphones, and a control panel for easy operation of the devices. Just to be practical, it also had a fold away feature. Only 1,000 were produced in a few colours and as with so many huge innovations, it was not a hit. But now a few years down the line clothing manufacturers are looking at ways of integrating MP3 players with coats. Osti also worked for Dockers, the khaki branch of Levis, and those who thought there simply wasn’t much innovation to be applied to a khaki brand were proved wrong. The biggest seller of the collection were trousers which fused the idea of combat trousers with a pair of Dockers, creating a unique design with zip open bottoms, reinforced knees, and lots of pockets. But the big talking point from buyers up and down the country who had viewed the collection was the availability of actual chain mail trousers…naturally the weight and the lack of medieval spirit meant few retailers took up the offer.

 

But the designers work was to be cut short just when he was getting his creation line back into full flow. A bout of cancer hit Osti who went into retirement while he fought for several years with the illness, and he seemed to have made a full recovery when he released his Double Use Massimo Osti line of reversible knitwear. But the unpredictable nature of this disease was shown when Osti died just short of his 60th birthday. The legacy of the designer and the hole left in the fashion world is enormous. His biggest fans, the British football fraternity, were constantly waiting for his next creations years after year. But the news is that his Double Use line will continue, with his son taking up the reign to continue his work. We hope that Massimo’s greatness has rubbed off on his son, and that we may continue to wear Osti creations from whichever part of the bloodline, for years to come.

 

 

 
 
 
 

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