Stone Island is a brand steeped in culture, history and undeniably brilliant design. Not only is it now world renowned for its experimentation with materials, it is also at the beating heart of authentic UK subculture and street style.
Founded in 1982 in the northern Italian town of Ravarino, Stone Island is the brainchild of Massimo Osti, a revolutionary fashion designer and garment engineer from Bologna. Named after the nautical novels of Joseph Conrad, it was conceived with a deep philosophy of research, experimentation and function. Osti didn’t simply design fashion, he engineered it. He developed thousands of new fabrics, treatments and dyeing processes, and created new possibilities of what clothes could be. The brand released thermo-sensitive sweaters that change colour with the temperature and a “liquid reflective jacket” which reflects light off tiny glass microspheres that are painted onto its surface by hand, then dried out in an oven.
Equally as interesting as its garment innovation, is Stone Island’s subcultural significance as part of the British football terraces of the 80s. Around that time, British football teams were starting to experience more consistent success in European tournaments, which meant crowds of diehard young fans were regularly travelling to exotic European destinations. Whilst on their travels, they would come across different styles donned by the youth of those countries and discover rare brands that hadn’t made it over to the terraces of England. High-end, continental sportswear brands like Stone Island, Sergio Tacchini, Fila and Lacoste became hugely popular.
The earliest Stone Island enthusiasts were a style-conscious 80s Milanese youth tribe known as the ‘Paninaro’, who took their name from the panini bars they rallied around in their home city. Their style was inspired by a strange mix of 50s americana and 60s mod, complemented with sporty Italian designer labels. It was the Paninaro look that the diehard British football supporters brought back to the UK and appropriated, building their own subculture around it. It became known as the ‘terrace casuals’ movement.
Legend has it that Stone Island became the most integral brand in the terrace casual style in 1992. After England were eliminated from the group stages of the European Championship in Sweden, the fans apparently looted a Swedish clothing outlet called Genius and brought a bounty of shoplifted ‘Stoney’ back home. This is said to be the event that cemented its place as a pillar of casual culture.
As time went on and subcultures shifted, Stone Island stayed exactly where it was through movements like the acid house and rave scene. But it was a 2014 collaboration with American streetwear giant, Supreme, that catapulted the brand’s popularity across the pond and into the mainstream. Rappers like A$AP Nast, Travis Scott and Drake all wore garments with the iconic compass tag on the left sleeve and Stone Island became less of a subcultural thing, and more of a cultural thing. Celebrities argued over who discovered Stoney first and the rise of UK grime music amplified the brand’s importance even more.
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Throughout its history, Stone Island has served as a signifier for many different things: a practice of material experimentation, a subculture of diehard football supporters and a high-end luxury Italian fashion label. It’s universal appreciation and ability to adapt with culture is what sets it apart as one of the most coveted fashion brands across the world. Both technically and culturally, Stone Island is driven by constant evolution.