Stone Island, the Italian sportswear brand, has been a favourite of the famous independent fashion store Browns in Brook Street for years. Now it has the art world in its sights, says the brand’s president Carlo Rivetti. By Jackson Ford

‘London is a fantastic city. It is an international city, a city in which you can see the entire world. So when I'm not very happy I organise for myself to travel to London as fast as possible, and it inspires me.’

So says Carlo Rivetti, founder of Stone Island, the Italian sportswear brand that is currently celebrating its 41st year. And he has had more reason than usual to visit the capital recently, as Stone Island has just partnered with Frieze to inaugurate a global partnership with its international art fairs which are held in London, Seoul, New York and LA, starting with Frieze London that has just been held in Regent’s Park.

By becoming the official partner of Focus – the section within the international Frieze contemporary art fairs that features galleries that are less than 12 years old – Stone Island is providing a subsidy so these young galleries can show work by the artists they represent in the company of world-famous, established gallerists.

The focus on youth makes sense for this Italian brand which has, over the years, been repeatedly taken up by youth culture tribes. First, in the ’80s, it was the paninari of Milan, the well-dressed kids whose uniform was outerwear jackets, jeans and Timberland boots, and who hung out in the San Babila district of the Italian city. Then Stone Island became a statement among football fans, who brought it to the UK where, years later, one Liam Gallagher would champion it. Today it is the US and UK stars of rap who are making it culturally relevant once again, and introducing it to a new generation.

Along the way, it has also managed to attract a following among lovers of good design. A recent exhibition held by the brand in Korea’s capital city on the occasion of Frieze Seoul was designed to immerse the visitor in four decades’ worth innovative product design. A space was dedicated to jackets in reflective materials, another to those made out of metal (literally), while the label’s long-running theme of Ice Jackets that respond to body-warmth when touched, was given expression with garments displayed in refrigerators.

Another area at the show presented selected pieces from the Prototype Research Series, where Stone Island’s designers are given free rein to develop ideas that will be put into production as limited editions of 100 because they are too complex and expensive to produce on an industrial scale. One of these is a jacket made of ‘canvas fabric, coated with a reactive helical-shaped cholesteric liquid crystal ink, [which] reveals a vast spectrum of chromatic points through numerous unexpected degrees of iridescence’. In simpler terms: it is temperature-sensitive and will morph between yellows, greens and blues depending on the weather.

‘We have more in common with industrial designers,’ says Rivetti. ‘Where we are based in Italy is called “motor valley”, and it has more car manufacturers within a 30-kilometre radius than anywhere in the world,’ he explains. ‘Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati…’ These are his design peers, and not just because they deal in product engineering: ‘You know, they don’t sell cars, they sell dreams.’

Over the years, Stone Island has encouraged its designers to dream and put numerous creations into production that speak of a restless, questing design philosophy: jackets made from fine, featherweight polyester cloth that is vacuum-coated with a stainless steel film (as employed in on-board aviation computers), or made from Kevlar, or nylon monofilaments from the technology used in water filtration. And then there are the 60,000 dye recipes. Colour is central to the Stone Island look.

But there are more simple sweats, T-shirts, knits and trousers as well as the futuristic outerwear pieces. And all come with a distinctive removable fabric compass badge that is buttoned on to the sleeves of the garments, a detail inspired by Italian military uniforms.

‘We found the compass rose motif that we use as our emblem in a book by Joseph Conrad,’ reveals Rivetti. ‘Massimo Osti [Stone Island’s first designer] was a great admirer of the work of Joseph Conrad. And two words Conrad used often are “Stone” and “Island”. We just put them together because we liked the sound.’

Rivetti, an energetic man with an engaging and friendly manner puts the continued success of the brand down to the fact that it does things differently. Although stocked in the fashion capitals of the world, and worn by some of the most fashionable of people, he is adamant it is not a fashion brand. That said, from the start, some enlightened fashion retailers recognised that there was something special going on here from a product design point of view. One such was Browns, now just off Bond Street in Brook Street, which has been stocking Stone Island for many years.

And if Stone Island has a very special relationship with Browns, that is because the brand and its president would seem to have a special relationship with London. Rivetti talks fondly of the West End, a place where he enjoys British pies and one cocktail in particular. ‘I learnt how to make the perfect Bloody Mary in London,’ he explains. ‘The barman was actually Italian, from Portofino, and he taught me that the secret to the perfect Bloody Mary is you have to prepare it the night before. So all the spices work together overnight!’

He smiles: ‘The amazing thing is, I am recognised in the street in London when I am in the West End. And what makes me so happy is that everyone calls me Carlo. They don’t call me Mr Rivetti or Doctor Rivetti, just Carlo, as if we are friends. It means that they feel they are part of a community. And I must say I’m happy, because this means that the work that we have done during all these years is recognised.’

Stone Island is available at Browns, 39 Brook Street, London W1K 4JE

Jackson Ford writes for The Times’ LUXX Men’s Style, Brummell and BEAU

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