We’re pretty confident that most of you have heard of Drake’s favourite brand, Stone Island. Yet not a lot of people know the man behind the Italian streetwear brand, Creative Director and Chairman of Sportswear Company S.p.A, Carlo Rivetti.
Rivetti is a veteran of the Italian clothing industry and never settles when it comes to creating new technologies and elevating his brand. Founded in 1982, Stone Island places a great emphasis on functionality, materials and performances. Over the years, the brand has developed more than 60,000 different dye recipes and has evolved and reinvented itself multiple times without losing its unique identity.
We sat down with Rivetti to talk about the history and subculture of his iconic brand and his upcoming plans.
Congratulations on your fourth store in Asia! Why did you choose to open it in Hong Kong?
We would like to approach the Hong Kong and China market since Stone Island is quite established in Japan and Korea. To me, Hong Kong is an important city. You can see the fusion between the east and west. Also, I think Stone Island offers international products with an Italian DNA and we are able to find the right consumers here. Luckily, we met some people from I.T HK. They came to us and gave us the opportunity.
Your family has deep roots within the clothing industry. How did it help to establish your career?
It’s a long story. We started with textile. At first, my father started doing garment. In 1982, my idea was that new products should be less formal. We ended up with this company and it’s been quite successful.
Since its launch in 1982, how has Stone Island’s approach evolved over the years?
Stone Island started with a mistake because we used the fabrics that were used to make truck tarp. Then we washed them and turned them into something special. From the beginning, the DNA of the brand was about new treatments and textile. Without a doubt, evolution is linked to technology. If you look back to 1982, we’re still doing the same thing. Everything’s still about fabrics. In fact, technology has allowed the brand to become what it is now. I am very optimistic because technology is moving very fast. It gives us a lot of opportunities for the future.
The advancement in technology has helped Stone Island to create unique and new fabrics such as Tela Stella. How do you think it’s changing the industry?
The industry changed a lot because of the market. For the past 30 years, Stone Island has always moved consistently. We do not follow the market and brands. I think we’re quite lucky because we understand the changes. I never look back, but I only look forward to innovation. It’s a state of mind. If you’re afraid of change, it’s a problem.
Tell us about the journey of creating fabrics.
It’s not always the same process. When we start the research, we do not think about the next season, but to finalise the research. We do not care about how long the process will take. I always use the example of reflective needs. Sometimes we modify ideas at the final stage. We meet interesting people and new technology. In Italy, people do not invest in the unknown. For me, it’s the opposite. I like to invest in the future. If you look at the future, you are building your future.
What’s Stone Island’s biggest innovation?
At the end of the 90s, we started garment dyeing and opened a new field of research that was unbelievable. It was very risky in the beginning, but fascinating. Then, we made some fabrics that I feel very confident about it. For example, the ice jackets, thermo-sensitive, and camouflage (something we like a lot).
What type of technology contributes the most to your brand?
Mainly the garment dyeing technology. We do not have too many technical innovations in the industry. More or less the same like sewing, cutting and ironing. With the dyeing technology, we are also able to test new looms for the shadow project.
As the pioneer of setting campaigns against white backgrounds, what’s the reason behind sticking to this aesthetic?
I want to show people the product. When we started thinking about the format, we first thought of police photos… like it’s very clean. They are all in the same position with the eyes of a tiger. And they are real men. We only mention the performances of the fabrics in advertisements. This is what our customers are interested in. They only want to know about the product and the secret behind it. We believe that it is the right way to communicate the key points to customers.
Most of the designs have the iconic branding on the sleeve, is there a reason behind this? Is it a military reference?
In the first season, we randomly placed the batch. After three seasons, we found the final position. When you look back to the first collection, it started from a mistake because we used the material, Tela Stella. We decided to pay a tribute to the uniform. Also, the founder of the company’s a fan of Joseph Conrad’s books and novels. Two of the most frequent words are Stone and Island. And here we are, Stone Island. It’s definitely not a military reference.
How does Stone Island usually choose models for its campaigns?
We do castings. A lot of models made a huge success after doing campaigns with us. We see Stone Island as an iconic brand, and so do many people.
What’s more important to Stone Island: functionality or design?
Functionality is fundamental, especially the pockets for men. Design is also important. However, we always look at the fabrics first. We are definitely not a fancy brand.
Stone Island’s just every street style lover’s dream. Including huge celebrities and style icons like Drake. How do you manage to keep up?
It’s because they like the products, so they wear it. We see a lot of celebrities in Stone Island, but none of them are testimonials. We never use testimonials. For Drake’s recent performance in New York, we did all the garments for him. We never said a word. I personally took the garment to him. He offered his whiskey to me. It’s a good exchange indeed. We’re friends…This is the type of relationship. People really like what we do, especially football and basketball players. We then became famous in England because of Eric Cantona. At that time, he was playing for Manchester. He went into the store, bought the jacket and went on TV with it. It’s definitely not paid advertisement, we only work with people who like the brand.
Do you think that streetwear is the new luxury?
Fro me, luxury is another thing to me. The real luxury is to spend time on the beach like swimming and relaxing. Streetwear is an important thing because the market has changed. The new generation is less formal. The concept of luxury to the new generation is totally different. However, it’s always unique for Stone Island.
We’re living in the new era of street style. How do you manage to maintain such a unique identity with so much going on in the industry?
I protect the DNA of the brand with all my fortune. This is the most important battle. Back then, there was a gentleman that made a comment on me. There’s a line that I like the most. “Carlo is a surfer; he always tries to stay on the top of the wave.” That’s true. Sometimes when you’re on the top of the wave, you try to make money out of it. I always fly to another wave. The key is the product. We also invest a lot in innovation.
Do you agree that buying and wearing streetwear is like diving into a subculture?
I agree. Subculture is a positive word. It represents a different culture. As an Italian, I know that the established culture in Italy is killing my country. We do not have enough subcultures in Italy. We’re still a small province. Thank God, the world is different! That’s why we want to include different cultures and people. I believe we get opportunities from diversities. A subculture today can be the culture of the future.
Tell us more about Stone Island’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection
It’s beautiful – there are a lot of different innovations, e.g. the printed heat reactive thermo-sensitive fabrics. The camouflage is heat reactive. We’re also happy to present some new colours.
Who’s your #legend?
Adriano Olivetti, the inventor of the Italian typewriter in the 1950s. he was an entrepreneur who knew how to drive change in his industry and was also a philosopher.
Photography / Keefe Tiu
Stone Island, Shop G03, No. 9 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, stoneisland.com/hk