My family has deep roots within the clothing industry. In the 19th century, Giuseppe Rivetti – son of Giovanni Battista, Italy’s first carding machine operator, inherited his father’s passion and in order to fund his own wool factory he secretly sold cows from the family farms to buy looms. By 1872 he had his own wool factory: “Giuseppe Rivetti e Figli”, which later merged with the Turin based GFT group (Gruppo Finanziario Tessile). There, my uncle Pinot had the unique idea of rubberising wool fabrics to increase their performance. This fondness for research also drove my father, Silvio. In the immediate post-war period, he set off for the United States where he found the Palm Beach Incorporated company, who produced something that didn’t yet exist in Europe: clothing constructed on theoretical measurements; what we now know as sizes. My father was stunned, working for six months as a laborer, before returning and convincing his brothers to give up their shares in the wool factories in order to buy out GFT.
In the early 1950’s GFT employed more than 25,000 Italians, which allowed them to effectively dress the whole nation for the first time with non-tailored garments.
The 1973 oil crisis brought a severe yet swift recession, and something had to be done to recover sales. My cousin, Marco Rivetti, noticed a French couturier working in a women’s outerwear firm we’d acquired one year earlier. He would design and fit the garments, write orders in Paris and then use our company to manufacture them. He was Emanuel Ungaro. This led us to realise that in order to re-launch the sector we needed to add a fundamental ingredient to the clothing industry: fashion. As a result, GFT became a licensee of the rising stars of Italian fashion, including Giorgio Armani and Valentino. The rise of Italian-made Prêt à Porter was due to the ability to combine entrepreneurial ability with creativity.
I joined GFT in 1975. Towards the end of that decade, I had the idea to start a new area within the group; to generate something more timeless: sportswear. In the early 1980’s, I discovered C.P. Company, a firm known for being innovative and cutting edge in this field. The company was owned by Trabaldo Togna and Massimo Osti, a graphic artist by profession and the firm’s designer and art director. We bought first 50% in 1983 and later on the entire company. That was the beginning of my journey. In 1993 I left GFT and, together with my sister Cristina, acquired 100% of the firm which is known today as Sportswear Company.
It was in 1983 that I got to know Massimo Osti, who had brought Stone Island into existence almost by chance, a year earlier. A special fabric named ‘Tela Stella’ had arrived in the company: a cloth that had a different colour on each side, used to make truck tarpaulins. The effect was very interesting but had little to do with the existing C.P. Company line. Osti decided to do something special with that fabric and created a collection of just seven jackets. The collection strongly referenced military style with the now iconic badge inspired by military insignia. The compass symbolised love for the sea and an aim for constant research.
Massimo was at least ten years ahead of others in his field. He saw himself as a producer rather than a fashion designer. His achievement establishing Stone Island was not only appealing and saleable, but also true to his core belief in informal wear. His ideas were drawn from military and work wear, accompanied by endless textile research.
In the mid-nineties, our paths eventually came apart, and I found myself with the difficult task of finding someone to design Stone Island. In 1994, as I wandered through a Munich trade fair I came across the work of designer Paul Harvey, an English designer who lived in Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna, Italy. I was struck by a strange feeling of familiarity and cried out: “so here’s the Stone of the 21st Century!”. From 1996, with Paul, we embarked on the second era of our brand.
Paul designed 24 collections, each consistent with the evolution and research that has always set Stone Island apart. He is another extraordinary character. After graduating Central Saint Martins, he decided fashion was not his career path and worked as a truck driver! Only after marrying a fantastic Italian lady and moving to Italy did he start designing clothes. His approach to design has functionality in its blood, which allowed him to interpret Stone Island perfectly. He led the brand masterfully into the new century.
After 12 marvelous years, Paul needed to leave the fashion world to “do something for the Planet”. With such a noble ambition, I could only accept and support his decision. In that moment, facing another crucial decision, I came to the conclusion the era of “one man at the helm” was over. Times had changed. It was necessary to be multicultural in order to be truly contemporary. I built a design team. I felt that in this era it is this 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.
I feel like the coach. I choose which men to send onto the pitch, depending on who we have to play: We need to be more sensitive, faster, and ready to grasp the signs of strength and weakness. As a result, we need multi-cultural people that travel the world and observe it from different viewpoints: people of different ages and from different cultures.
This, in short, is my story. I like to think there’s a common thread that binds us all. A desire for continual experimentation and research, not without a touch of healthy insanity: that special something that makes our Stone Island much more than a just a clothing brand.
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