During Milan's famed Design Week, we stopped by Stone Island's "Reflective Research" exhibition to chat with the brand's owner on everything from working with New York streetwear royalty to teaching at the local Polytechnic University.
As one of the clothing industry's leading innovators, Stone Island's man at the helm, Carlo Rivetti, knows a thing or two about fabrics. Approaching the world of fashion with the mindset of an industrial designer, Stone Island has rightfully earned its position as streetwear's technical leader over the course of 30-some-odd years. Stone Island even collaborated with Supreme not once, but twice over the past year, cementing their place in the current fashion landscape.
Although we recently dove into their massive archive and captured Mr. Rivetti in a recent Street Style, we've only just scratched the surface of the heralded Italian label. To find out more, we sat down with Mr. Rivetti at Stone Island's "Reflective Research" exhibition. Check it out below.
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello, my name is Carlo Rivetti and I am the Creative Director and President (exactly in that order) at Stone Island. (laughs)
Describe your day-to-day tasks.
I work with the design team. We work altogether both in Milano and in Ravarino where we have the factory. Because I am the oldest with experience, I try to give direction to the younger guys in the design team. The design team is made up of four different people; so four different ages and four different nationalities. So I’m very interested to know the opinions and point of views of all of these people. It is my job to try and put these ideas into a Stone Island environment.
In your words, what is Stone Island?
Stone Island is something unique. If you want single pieces then each single piece in the collection has a meaning. We are not following the market – we try to do what we feel is interesting. It’s a sort of club between people who understand the product, which is not usually understandable. You must be curious and understand that an orange jacket is not always an orange jacket.
What makes something difficult to understand with clothing?
Times have changed a lot. People are more superficial and don’t have much time to invest. Everything becomes so fast, compared with the past. We have to change the way of talking to people – you have to become quickly understandable. You have to hit and surprise people so they are interested in understanding the process and everything.
Do you think the way you reach people has changed? Through social media, for example?
Yes, for sure. Also because we talk a lot on social media, we try to show how we do the garment. We were very effective in this because we added a new age target. We are now talking to younger people and this to me is probably the most important thing.
Do you reach out to younger people in a different way? The new customers, for instance? The people that don’t necessarily know the history of Stone Island?
Not necessarily in a different way. I think young people are very interested in stories. Regarding the young people in the Italian market over the last 10 years, they were very kept by marketed products and now they are much more interested in real products.
In the past you've referred to Stone Island as masculine. What is your idea of masculinity?
Masculinity is a man who walks in the street and does not have a particular value. You see a lot of different people wearing Stone Island - I see beautiful women wearing Stone Island and I think that the most beautiful women are the ones wearing men’s products. I don’t really have a target of masculinity. I just feel proud when I see someone wearing my stuff. We don’t target our customer.
It seems you approach the design of your product more in the way of industrial design rather than fashion design?
Totally correct. In fact, during Fashion Week we didn’t do a show or catwalk. We didn’t do anything. We just opened a space and we were there explaining the product. I feel much more confident with industrial design than the fashion system.
Why did you decide to exhibit your reflective technology for Salone del Mobile?
This is a decision that was taken by my wife – she is also part of the design team. She wanted to do this exhibition. In a word, it is a product of the mind of the design team. I never enter into this type of decision because I’m interested in doing product so with this type of communication I leave it to my wife, Sabina.
When you're doing research on new fabrics and new techniques, are there any other industries that you take inspiration from?
A lot of design teams from other sectors come into ours showrooms and obviously I am very interested in understanding it more. We say this is technology but this is only technology in textile. You have technology in other industries: cars, shoes. For example, I saw these sunglasses and then had to find out how they work. So we can see these technologies in different sectors and take from them and they can take from us. It’s a sort of exchange of experience. If you want to be innovative you have to stay awake and alert to the world.
I see beautiful women wearing Stone Island and I think that the most beautiful women are the ones wearing men’s products
Were you referring to the Recon Jet sunglasses?
Yes. Beautiful design, amazing advertising. So it’s this type of thing. How can I work with these people and the types of technologies they are using? Can I use this type of technology in a garment? I think the thing with innovation is something you need to work on so I always tell my team, “don’t look back, always look in front. Because the future is in the future, not the past."
In a previous interview you mentioned that a big revolution for you guys happened in 2003 when you discovered how to dye polyester at 130 degrees Celsius. Why was that such an important innovation?
Because before we could only dye the natural fiber – there is a huge amount of fabric in fiber but when we also began to dye manmade fiber, we opened a totally new field of research – polyester, nylon, non-woven fabrics – so again, we start from zero, with the experience of natural fiber and have a totally new field of experience. I am also attracted by the fact there are new fibers and how they will react to the dying. Also the dying is changing because we are working at a lower temperature, new nano-materials – both in fabrics and in dye.
What about these sort of hype technologies like 3D printing. Is that something that interests you?
Yes, we have started researching. It’s very good because we live in an interesting technological area. We have a few very small companies that are very flexible so we are starting to work with them to see how we can fit this technique into the garment.
A colleague of mine wrote a piece on future fashion technologies like self-healing fabric. Have you heard of this?
Yes. I call these intelligent fibers or fabrics. They have a long history. I’ve never seen them applied but think they will be available soon. Anyway, we already talk about easy-care, anti-stain, that sort of thing. Can you believe I saw the first anti-stain fabric in the early '60s? So it is there but technology is always evolving. We already have self-pressing garments and this wash-and-wear stuff. If you know about these things you can move with the innovations.
Are you still a Professor at the Polytechnic University?
Yes, of course.
What do you teach there?
I am teaching marketing – fashion marketing - and the course focuses on studying prototypes of garments. I use Stone Island as an example but try not to influence the students so much. Since 80% or so are womenswear, we also have wedding products.
Is there a certain brand you always talk about with regards to marketing?
I have a lot of respect for Paul Smith. And then of course I totally respect Yohji Yamamoto and the Japanese because they have a really fantastic approach to their job – they really do their art in a unique way. They don’t need to be commercial - they become commercial and can make their dream a reality.
Have you discovered anything of particular note through your students?
Yes. I remember a couple of years ago there was a student who was studying a garment for a chef – the idea was do a jacket that doesn’t smell. She found a filter in Japan that keeps the smell. But then you take the jacket and shake it out and the smell goes away. But of course, it’s a big Japanese company and they don’t care about a student from Polytechnic. So I said that Stone Island might be interested and I was very interested. So as a sort of filter, I discovered a new material, she makes a fantastic garment and I get a new experience. You know, working with young people, even in the university – it keeps you young.
What about the latest Supreme collaboration? How did that come about?
They approached us. In the beginning I was not sure if we could work together but then I flew to New York and met the team. You know, never put two guys with blue eyes in the same room. (laughs) They can kill each other or they can work very well together. Fortunately, we were the latter. James was happy, I was happy. I learned a lot. In the beginning it was not easy to understand each other but now we are working very well and I am very satisfied with the result. I think both entities were flexible to respect the DNA of each brand and to make something that was very good.
What did you learn from working with them?
I learned to be very precise. I learned not to stop until you obtain the perfect result. I learned how to launch a product on the internet and understand the expectations of people working on paper, and understand the way we do the garment is not so precise, so we have to slightly change how we do the garment in order to achieve the perfection Supreme were expecting.
I totally respect Yohji Yamamoto and the Japanese because they have a really fantastic approach to their job – they really do their art in a unique way.
Early you were talking about approaching clothing design in an industrial way. Are there any other products that you’d like to explore?
No, just clothing. I think you must do the job that you are able to do.
There are plenty other technical brands now who are doing this "direct to consumer" model. Do you keep an eye on these kinds of brands?
I always look to all the brands that are around. I think you can always learn from everyone - from active sport to skiing and surfing. I think it started many years ago. I also look at the army. When I travel the world, I try to see all the different types of jackets that exist. Now the costumer can choose what they want and use it across the board. So a technical jacket can go into a theatre and a motorcycle jacket can go on top of a mountain. It's about how the consumer wants to use it.
Do you think this is trend-based or does it reflect current lifestyles?
I think it is more of a trend. It is something that people will continue to do, and in someway, we are helping this trend because we are doing garments that are performing more and are more multipurpose.