Wear you art on your sleeve – the history of Stone Island

Originally in Maxim magazine.

Some clothing brands just matter. They define us, they say what we are as people when we wear their garments. And for many men, no label does that better than Stone Island.

On a cold terrace, there’s nothing like a chunky Stone Island knitted cardigan overlaid with one of their beautifully engineered jackets to protect you against the elements. Forget the brand’s ubiquity with a certain type of football supporter in the late ’90s, Stone Island’s exquisite clothes are classics that inhabit a space beyond fashion – they’re almost pieces of architecture that you can wear. And as the brand opens its first stand-alone flagship store in the UK (below, in London’s Covent Garden), it’s finally getting the respect it deserves.

The label began in Italy in 1982 when the brand CP Company acquired an industrial fabric that took on two different colours when dipped in dye. Unsuitable for the then-conservative CP, a new label was created especially for it. Named after a book the firm’s visionary designer Massimo Osti was reading, they called it Stone Island Marina.

Osti, who tragically died in 2005, was a design obsessive, owning more than 20,000 pieces of military and industrial wear. His mission was to take the innovations of this clothing into the fashion arena, to make the unwearable wearable, to engineer beautifully tailored garments from the most unexpected of materials. The brand’s logo, reflecting his obsession with both military and nautical design, was a compass.

“From the beginning Stone Island has been a label centred on fabric and construction research,” says Carlo Rivetti, who’s headed the company since 1982. “We’re always investigating how far we can go in ‘inventing’ and transforming materials, exploring functions for the wearer derived from work gear and uniforms.”

To say that the early Stone Island collections were radically different from everything else is an understatement. Items like jumpers and trousers were made out of fabrics such as steel-coated nylon from the aviation industry or polyester fibre felts used previously in construction. The 1989 ‘ice jacket’, which had a “thermo-sensible” coating that allowed it to drastically change colour through temperature changes was the first garment to get fashion buyers and journalists in the UK interested in this previously obscure Italian brand.

Dropping the ‘Marina’ from its name, the label finally surfaced at Brown’s in London’s South Molton St, the UK’s only stockist. Its prohibitive price and exclusivity made it perfect for those in the capital who’d moved upwards from Sergio Tacchini and Lacoste to high-end brands like Armani and Hugo Boss, as Dave Hewitson, boss of clothing brand 80s Casuals, remembers.

“It first surfaced in London about 1988/9,” says Hewitson. “ It took a while for it to move to Manchester and Liverpool, and in truth it was never that popular here, because it was so expensive. In fact only one shop in either city ever got hold of it. This was, early on at least, a London thing.”

The acid house and rave movement of the late ’80s, which was very ‘anti-label’, kept the brand’s profile low, but as the 1990s began it slowly became increasingly popular with design-obsessed football supporters in both England and Italy. Stone Island’s UK representative Gino Da’Prata:

“The clothes were perfect for football stadiums – their technical construction meant you were protected when it got cold and damp. The fact that Stone Island was expensive, aspirational and also hard to acquire – demand always exceeded supply – just increased its allure. And it’s still the same today.”

Up until 1992, the brand was still something of a secret, but at the 1992 European Championships in Sweden, England fans descended on a clothes outlet in Stockholm called ‘Genius’ – which just happened to be crammed with large amounts of Stone Island. The supporters did what British fans have been doing since the 1970s – and promptly looted it. Within an hour the compass was on the arms of football fans from all over England – Stone Island had just gone mainstream.

For much of ’90s it seemed you couldn’t go to a game without seeing a firm decked out in Stone Island. It became choice for fans looking for more than just football in their trips to the match. Da’Prata again:

“You saw the compass first because it was on the outside of our jackets, but underneath those fans would have been wearing Prada Sport and Armani too. We never targeted that consumer, we’ve always been exclusive and been sold a in a few selected shops, but you can’t stop people buying it.”

Like anything, fashions come and go – and Stone Island, which has always seen itself as above fashion carried on innovating. After the departure of Massimo Osti (to found his own Left Hand label, below), British designer Paul Harvey took over, creating the most incredible of garments. The story went from the people who were wearing it to the genius of the brand’s innovations, like the 100% stainless steel mesh bonded to nylon to make it wearable or coats made of garment-dyed Kevlar – the stab-proof material used previously by the military and police forces in their protective clothing. For Carlo Rivetti, it is this absolute dedication to innovation that defines Stone Island to this day.

“We approach the design and engineering of garments pretty much like industrial design. This is not pointlessly exasperated research: design is dictated by contemporary needs. Every new season shows how far it can carry us into the world of clothing.”

In 2009, Stone Island is stronger than ever with devotees all over the world – many of whom obsess about it at dedicated websites and forums. Working with outside designers, who put their own spin on the label’s philosophy in new collections like the Shadow Project and body-focused Articulated Anatomy collection, is helping to make it the absolute definition of 21st Century clothing brand. And, as 23-year-old founder of football/fashion fanzine , Daniel Nicolson says, “Stone Island has come full circle. People now recognise its undoubted quality. In a way, I wear it in spite of the badge, not because of it – the clothes are that good they speak for themselves.”

And if that's not the definition of a classic then what is?


  1. Anonymous12:21 pm

    This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

    Stone Island Clothing

  2. really cool and well written article.MINT!


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