Stone Island 30: A Retrospective

Stone Island recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with an exhibition held at the Stazione Leopolda in Florence, having been invited to put on a show by the Fondazione Pitti Discovery. Designed and curated by Brits, Simon Foxton and Nick Griffiths, the exhibition was a unique opportunity for Stone Island fans and collectors to see some of the rarest, craziest and most beautiful designs from the Archive. The show is unlikely to come to the UK so intrepid OA members, RedMagnus and Marina , made the pilgrimage to Florence to see for themselves just how magnificent the collection was. They weren’t disappointed…

4am starts in pouring rain at Stansted Airport aren’t the best way to begin a trip but the anticipation of seeing with our own eyes some long-lusted after pieces and hitherto unseen gems meant the weather was the least of our concerns. And we didn’t have to worry about the rain for long – having reached Pisa and made the short trip on the train to Florence, it was suddenly well over 30 degrees and climbing. The decision not to bring jackets, however tempting, was a good one.

Florence, of course, is home to the Renaissance, a time of creative genius that spawned hundreds of glorious paintings, sculptures and architecture that have been celebrated globally ever since. The city has fabulous sights literally around every corner from the Duomo, to the Palazzo Vecchio to the Uffizi Gallery. Under the patronage of the Medici family, artists, sculptors and designers produced a wealth of outstanding works. We think they would have heartily approved of the creative genius, innovation, research and experimentation Massimo Osti and Carlo Rivetti infused into the DNA of Stone Island from the very outset, creating clothing that must have initially felt like it was from another planet.

We had seen the press photos, read reviews and obviously have our own personal collections but nothing could really prepare you for the opening few seconds of entering the exhibition. The Vertical Army of Pure Metal Shell warriors formed a stunning entrance, a modern day steel-clad Terracotta army, but the main hall was still hidden from view.

Upon arriving inside, the sheer size and scale of the venue and the show was breathtaking. The Stazione Leopolda, constructed in the 19th century as a major railway station, formed a magnificent backdrop for the exhibits, all high ceilings and stone archways, industrial strength and resilience complementing the rainbow palette of colours and fabrics on display.

The show had been designed artfully by Messrs Foxton and Griffiths, dividing the pieces into a series of ten “rooms” focusing on the research, experimentation and fabrics that are at the heart of the brand. Displays were theoretically alarmed but visitors were able to walk up close to almost every piece and touch them. And you certainly could not fail to want to do so.

The first area was devoted to Coatings, Treatments and Dyeing Techniques. Over 100 pieces were on display in this section alone, including the original Telas, Toffee Wrappers, Vinyls, the NOC-1 and many, many more. In the heart of the space, a separate darkened amphitheatre housed a set of Reflectives, instantly ablaze the moment light struck them.

At every turn you saw another piece you would give body parts for, a pair of silver coated pieces from 1986 especially attracted our attention.

Eventually dragging ourselves away from the opening wonders, area two was the Chromatic Room, an interesting set up showing the process whereby Kevlar, Reverse Colour Process and Mussola Prismatica fabrics are produced through extreme dyeing techniques.

Room 3 we could probably have done without given the afternoon temperature had reached nearly 40 degrees but Compact is one of the wonders of Stone island and the Steam Room highlighted the effect of dyeing garments under pressure at 130 degrees. Shrinking garments by over 50% and still maintaining garment integrity is some science.

Next up was the Shadow Project – lurking appropriately in the darkest corners of the venue. Another set of realistic mannequins in formation displaying a range of pieces from the collaboration with Errolson Hugh and Michaela Sachenbacher of Acronym.

The fifth section was one of our personal favourites – Meshes. Originally borne out of the Serie 100 short-lived womenswear experiment, which featured pieces created out of a continuous thread of nylon, there were some very unusual pieces on display, including a fabric called Monobava which neither of us had seen previously. It is apparently a transparent nylon monofilament mesh protected by a double layered transparent micro polyurethane film which creates a sticky, almost bubble-gum like texture. The jackets were dyed a suitably electric colour.

Whilst the vast majority of the displays were devoted to jackets, section six featured Knit Research highlighting double and quadruple needle beds, pressed polyester printed with sublimatic printing and plating and corrosion. There were only about half a dozen knits on display which made you think there was easily another exhibition that could still be created for non-jacket garments.

Room seven was devoted to non-woven fabrics – the Paper Room. Under a canopy of giant paper-like clouds, the jackets hung and swung freely, underlying their lightness.

Stretching the boundaries of fabric composiiton to create garments has long been one of Stone Island’s key passions. Room eight was designated the Special Projects room and was a slightly disorientating space being virtually pitch-black and completely mirrored. We half expected Bond and Scaramanga to appear trading gunshots. Random spotlighting periodically revealed the individual pieces, among them the Bronze Pure Metal Shell, Fibre Optic and the Hand Painted Camo. Stone Island at its absolute best.

A personal favourite category is the Ice Jacket and the penultimate room was devoted to this most iconic of Stone Island pieces. The Thermosensitive Room had a fantastic display of early Ice pieces, several of which were new to us. The room had a constantly changing temperature so that the jackets were repeatedly changing shade.

The exhibition concluded with a 15 minute video, the Motion Scrapbook, showing images such as a young Carlo Rivetti wearing a Marina reflective, interview excerpts with Massimo Osti and Paul Harvey, snapshots of old advertising, etc– it was a very evocative and emotional film and a fitting finale to an experience which will long live in the memory.

Having spent several hours admiring the exhibition we returned to the city centre, tracking down all of the various clothing stores we wanted to find and doing our bit to prop up the Italian economy, although we were a bit gutted to discover all the sales were to start the following day. Returning to Pisa, we did our best to follow the Murray-Tsonga semi-final on a Blackberry with an intermittent signal and duly celebrated the result at the airport awaiting our flight back to Stansted. Not even Ryan Air’s miserable 90 minute delay could spoil the (22.5hour!) day.

An exhibition of old jackets sounds a fairly dull concept on paper but for anyone with an appreciation of Stone Island this was possibly as good as it could ever get and this was a trip that had to be made. From the scale of the show, to the overall presentation, to the range of historical pieces chosen, it certainly did the brand and everyone associated with it justice. As Carlo Rivetti notes towards the end of the Motion Scrapbook video, “Our company exudes passion for research, passion for innovation, passion to do unique things. And I believe that is exactly what we did in these 30 years, express our passion and make it available to our followers.” We’re proud to be counted among them.

© A RM66 production in association with Osti Archive, 2012

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