It’s no secret to this audience that Stone Island is one of the most innovative men’s clothing companies around. Experimentation with fabric, dyeing, and construction is in its DNA. Arguably, there is more design in Stone Island’s offerings than in all the oversized hoodies and tees emblazoned with logos or some lame slogans that pass for designer fashion these days.

Stone Island’s success in becoming one of the most interesting brands for men obsessed with the minutiae of design is partly due to its experimental offshoot, Shadow Project. Shadow Project is a line that serves as a mad-scientist lab for a brand that’s already known for pushing the envelop of what’s possible in clothes-making since its founding in 1982. The line is designed by Errolson Hugh of ACRONYM under the hands-off auspices of Carlo Rivetti, Stone Island’s boss.

Last night Stone Island celebrated Shadow Project’s 10 anniversary with an event in its New York’s SoHo store, for which it also created a video installation that will remain on view through October 28. Rivetti was in attendance along with several other members of the team. The celebration is a bit of a whirlwind tour, and Rivetti touched down the same day, having feted the night before at Stone Island’s London flagship.

In two days, they will be traveling to Los Angeles for more. Instead of being tired, Rivetti was euphoric, as I’ve seen him time and again at Stone Island’s events in whatever part of the globe our paths would cross, jet lag be damned. Hugh was not in attendance, but he will be in LA, so get your felt-tip pens ready.

“About twelve years ago, we were with Sabina [Rivetti’s wife and work partner] in our house in the mountains, and we walked into a local sports shop to look for some ski clothes,” he recalls as we sit down for a chat in the back of the store, a rack with the Shadow Project offerings next to us.

“This is where we saw an Arct’eryx collection that was made in absolutely gorgeous, vibrant colors that you would normally find in Tibet’s Buddhist monasteries,” continues Rivetti. “And it was also very stylish. And you must understand that in most activewear at the time no one cared about color or style. I was very impressed, and I started thinking that we should challenge ourselves more. So, the reason we started Shadow Project was because I wanted to see how far we could push ourselves.”

Rivetti wanted to bring in a designer from the outside in order to bring a fresh direction to Stone Island’s in-house team. Marc Buhre, the German industrial designer who works with Stone Island on its stores, recommended a young man by the name of Errolson Hugh, who was beginning to make waves in the design community with his label ACRONYM. Hugh came down to Stone Island’s headquarters, saw the possibilities the brand’s know-how offered and signed on without much deliberation.

“We came up with the name ‘Shadow Project’ over dinner,” Rivetti says. “The idea is that the line exists because of Stone Island, so it’s a shadow of the brand, but with its own life. We also decided that with Shadow Project, we are not going to look at it as a business, so we are not going to constrain ourselves financially. We will simply experiment. This will be our Formula 1.”

Which self-respecting designer would say no to that? “Having Errolson on board really pushed our design team,” adds Sabina Rivetti. “This is very important to us, because we don’t want them to get bored. They need a constant challenge. And it’s been a mutual education—both Errolson and our team have learned a lot from each other.”

Still, the experiment has paid off, because some ideas developed for Shadow Project, such as its reverse color process, have been successfully moved to the main Stone Island line and have sold well. Also, Shadow Project attracted a new type of a customer, more fashion-oriented, more comfortable with new media. Their media policy for Shadow Project, however, was no media at all until the clothes would be delivered to stores, so the customer would experience the clothes in real life.

For his part Rivetti also challenged Hugh. Five years ago he suggested that Shadow Project, which hitherto concentrated on cut-and-sew outerwear, should tackle knitwear. “The possibilities in knitwear these days are amazing,” Rivetti says. “And we have close relationships with some of the most innovative knitwear makers in the world because they are near our headquarters in Ravarino.”

Hugh was uncertain, as he had no knowledge of how knitwear works, nor was particularly interested in it. “But that is the best way,” affirms Rivetti, “because I am convinced that a talented designer like Errolson, when he comes into a new industry actually without knowing anything about it, he looks at it with a fresh eye and can challenged them in a completely new way.” Since then, knitwear has become an indispensable part of Shadow Project, and by extension Stone Island’s main line.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years,” Rivetti says, finishing our interview somewhat wistfully. Will Shadow Project continue, I couldn’t help asking. “It will, as long as we have something to say,” answered Rivetti.

For more on Stone Island, read how the Italian sportswear company maintains its edge.

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