Carlo Rivetti’s steered Stone Island as a brand as it travelled from the cafes of Milan’s famous Paninari, to the terraces of British football clubs, and, more recently, to the back of international super stars like Drake. It’s currently Design Week in Milan, and the Stone Island president sat down with Streetwear Jobs to talk about the brand’s recent expansion, it’s plans for the US and Japan, bootlegs in China, Donald Trump, and his World Cup plans.
Where do you call home these days?
I’m mostly in Milan but I travel a lot. The second city is Ravarino where we have the factory. And then I travel the world because, thank God, these days we are becoming popular around the world. We opened a pop up in Toronto, I’ve been to a university called Parsons in New York, and London is important because England is the most important market we have, after Italy, and it’s an historical market because it’s a long time that we’ve been popular in England. So when I’m not very happy I travel to London and I meet a lot of people who love and respect and know the story of the brand. So I’m happy when I’m in London.
You recently entered the American market. Is there a reason you waited until now?
It’s still a very small market for us. Also, in the past we were not investing in the US because the company was too small and the thinking was to focus on the most important market, which is Europe. Italy, England, Germany, and Holland are 80 percent of our turnover. But four years ago I got a phone call from the US and it’s James Jebbia (of Supreme). I thought, why is he calling me? We are unknown in the US and if a gentleman and a genius (like him) asks me it means something is happening in the US. Then a call came from Beaverton, Oregon from NikeLab and I said oh my god. Then there was Drake, so I said it is the right moment and now we have the right size to enter the US market from the main door.
I don’t want to change the DNA of the brand, I don’t want to change the way we talk. The first two years in the US I don’t want to sell. We’re not there for a commercial purpose. It’s to increase brand awareness and about talking to different customers, which is what we’ve done in 36 years. The most important thing was to inform the American market and it was good because we opened in Los Angeles and New York City and they’re doing very well and so the market responded in a very positive way.
Why do you think the reception in the US has been so strong?
It’s still a small market, but it’s growing very fast on the internet. This is typical of America I think. One of the things that makes me happier is that we are known in Canada. We opened a pop up in Toronto and I went to the opening and I met a lot of young guys wearing vintage pieces. This means they follow the brand. I think Canadian people have a more European mentality but to see young guys with old pieces means something. It’s because they like the product. This was personally very satisfying.
But for me, the milestone is the product. I always say fashion moves and we always do things in our way and wait for the market. Sooner or later the market will arrive. Suddenly the market arrived. We didn’t change anything. The way we do our product is unique.
If we are able to talk with a large number of people we will find people ready to listen and interested in what we say. Before, I was a little too snobbish and we were not sure the final consumer would be interested in how we built the garment. We discovered people were crazy to learn – look, here at Salone del Mobile we see 4000 people a day and I explain the construction and you see people cannot believe it. It is not yet industrialized, this is pure research and this is fantastic for people like me who are not forced by commercial or cost issues. We can express creativity 100 percent and if we achieve it, it probably becomes a product, who knows? But what is most important is to move the research forward. From the approach to the research, it’s all pure. If we are able to think something, we are able to make it.
How important is that?
Very important. If you are afraid you cannot achieve something you will never create anything new. We only show the success of research. If we must show the failures we need three San Siro stadiums to display them (laughs). We didn’t waste money or time. We learn also from mistake. Another thing that is magic to me, because I’m becoming old, is that we go back to certain things in the 80s or early 90s that we couldn’t achieve. Now, with new textiles we go back and perhaps now we can achieve a result. Ok, we were not able before and perhaps now we are able, so we try again with new technology. It’s fantastic.
A lot of brands, especially in the sneaker world, are revisiting or re-releasing old iterations. Is this something Stone Island will ever do?
What is important is the treatment and then the new interpretation. My company is based in area with the highest concentration of car builders in the world. In a 15 kilometer radius around Stone Island there is Lamborghini, Maserati, De Tomaso, Ferrari, and Ducati. So, I say, you cannot drive a car looking backward, especially the type of car we build in that area, it’s better if you drive looking forward. It’s so important to know our history, but I always want to do new projects. Then, of course, we have a historical archive. We might take the garment, we look at it, but we do a contemporary model. Everything changes.
It feels like we are in an era of nostalgia, not just in fashion but everything – including politics. What’s your take on the situation taking place on the global political stage.
It’s strange but I think it’s the same all over the world. The people want new faces. So, Trump, who is an old fart guy, from a political point of view, is a new face compared to Hillary Clinton. In my country it’s the same, with the Five Star Movement and Lega – which is less new – but Five Star is totally new. So, this is very strange to me, because 20 years ago, we voted for Mr Berlusconi and we believed the lies.
Now, we believe this movement that says it will change everything and in the beginning I was a little afraid. Now, they’re already changing their position with NATO and about their relationship with the US and Russia because when you don’t have responsibility you can say anything. If we survived 20 years of Berlusconi, we can survive some years with Five Star. So, my position now personally, is let’s see what happens. Perhaps they are better than the politicians of the past 100 years (laughs). And, going back to the global world there are no more professional politicians. They are all new faces, tycoons, and for an old guy it’s strange. But this is democracy. So, the only opportunity we have is the new youth. Give them the opportunity to try.
I’m happy to be Italian and not American because I survived Berlusconi. I don’t know if I can survive Trump (laugh).
Speaking of the wider world, we heard you’ll be opening a flagship store in Tokyo. Can you share any news on that?
We have a long commercial story in Japan, but it is the only country we could not talk to the new generation, probably because of the distribution we established. This is a mess to me because in the last seven years we started talking to the younger generation, but we made sure not to lose the old fart guys like me. So we added new supporters without losing the old ones and without changing the language and again this is important. We’re trying to talk to different generations so we will change our media strategy. In the past we were too Japan oriented. Now, I think that because we are successful in other countries, Japan must also be more global. So trying to talk with new generations means opening a store in the right area, I hope, and giving ourselves the opportunity to talk to new generations and then we’ll see what happens.
Any other plans for expansion in Asia? A lot of brands are looking at China.
My Nephew was in Beijing recently and he sent me 30 photos from 30 stores of 30 fake Stone Island (pieces). But we are not ready. The company is growing a lot. We have to invest on production mainly because the number of pieces we are sending is not easy to do. We must guarantee quality and the delivery, which is what we have done for the last 36 years. We are already investing in the US, and growing. Europe is growing, my god, and Italy is growing – slower than the rest but still growing. But China, no, because if we are famous there I am ruined (laughs), I can’t follow the growth.
And then, another thing I learned in the US. When I think of the US, I want to change Stone Island from a push product to a pull product. I don’t want to go sell, I want them to arrive asking for our product. The same idea I have for China. If they come asking…but at the moment nobody’s come.
I don’t know if you saw the Diesel campaign where they sold a bunch of bootlegs and spelled it D-E-I-S
I saw that! (laughs)
How does it feel to see these photos of Stone Island in stores in China? Is it flattering or a bit funny even?
Funny is not the right word – I think it’s the price you have to pay for success. I can recognize a fake 40 meters away. I think my people will recognize fakes because they are terrible. It’s normal when you are successful. The ones on the internet are worse because in reality if you enter a shop you recognize a fake. On the internet it’s less easy so sometimes we get phone calls asking ‘is this piece real?’ A jacket in leather for 70 euros. Seven-zero, for a leather jacket, and you think it’s original? There is something wrong (laugh). Well, then there a lot of fakes in Italy. We have to protect the brand. That’s the key. So we try to protect our brand.
I always tell this story, in the mid 80s the Lacoste market was flooded with fake product so they tried to understand it. It seems there was a Moroccan industry making fakes and the fakes were really beautiful. Lacoste went there and said stop making fakes, make the originals. But I never saw a beautiful fake (Stone Island). If I see one I will investigate how they can do a product like ours with a totally different cost. The idea is that we always stay awake. It’s important in successful periods.
What can we expect from the AW18 collection?
Nothing new. No new treatment style fabric. (laughs) I’m joking.
According to our customers during the AW18 selling campaign, it’s the best collection ever. That’s important because they are involved in the business but the real answer is from the people so I will weigh when it’s in the store. I think we have done a very good job. So I’m quite confident. But everything is changing it’s unbelievable.
Let’s take an example with Moncler with the genius inspiration, no more seasons. Its very interesting to understand, also because yes, it’s changing. I was thinking about this logistic. My company is not ready to do something like this but it’s interesting to understand if it is a commercial reason? Or is it a logistic approach?
Virgil Abloh will go to Louis Vuitton – it’s a change. A very serious, French, luxury traditional brand understand something is changing in the world. This is interesting. I feel the world is changing. I tried seven years ago to change the way we communicate with the media and the social attention we get.
You see the old fashion Italian brands are still doing the show. It’s terrible, really terrible. It’s something so old. They are still doing what was done in the 80s. This week (Milan Design Week) is the only opportunity to open the show to people. It’s best week, everything is open, you can visit spaces, and in a fashion show you see people running one closed place to another.
The world is moving so fast that you have the customer’s attention for 10 minutes. There is too much info. You get to the show today and the product is available in six months so they already forget about it and see other shows and want other new products. So for a traditional French brand to take Abloh as a creative director, and not an Italian, it’s probably because they are more international than us. Not only international, they understand the world better.
Which designers, creatives, or artists do you most respect at the moment? Is Virgil in that conversation?
I always like the Japanese. There was a lady today sitting outside with a Yohji Yamamoto piece. Pure art. Pure art. And it’s seasonless, timeless, it’s forever beautiful. So, it’s this type of designer or creator that I like.
Then there is new generation. I think Abloh is a very, very, very good guy, and he’s done an unbelievable job. But I would not hire him.
Because he does different things. I like what he’s done a lot but it’s not my… (looking for words – Francesca, his international press officer, says “cup of tea”). I’m really interested to see what happens with Vuitton because I think it’s interesting that this type of culture enters a brand like this. I don’t need this type of culture. I think we already have this type of DNA (at Stone Island) and knowhow. It’s for that I will say I wont hire him…and he’s already with a French house so… (laugh).
I’ve read you’re a big Interista. Any thoughts on the state of the club?
The problem is the club. I hope they give (manager Luciano) Spalletti the opportunity to work a couple of years. I never forget the past, when this gentleman from Portugal (stands up) Jose Mourinho (makes a salute motion, then sits). In the first year he starts working. The second year we won the Coppa Italia and Championship. Then, in the third year, we became the only team in Italian history to win the treble.
So, if we fire him after one year we will never repeat the treble! I don’t think we will do it again but the idea is you choose a manager and then give him the opportunity to do his job. I think the beginning was terrible. We were in first place but the way we played was terrible. We were only lucky. Then there was the decline in the middle of the season. Now, we’ve recovered but the good news is we are playing better and the future is positive.
Then, the question is will the Chinese invest next year? Who knows. Let’s say we are quite happy because I think for the second team of Milano, AC Milan, the situation is even worse (Laughs).
Any plans for the World Cup?
Yes. I will go to… do you know the Gobi Desert? Because there’s no television and no information there. This is terrible question, (in Italian) Insensible! (laughs).
I had a grandmother from Argentina so I will support them. On the other hand it will be fantastic because we are not involved, so there will be no stress (laughs). The way we played in qualification it’s better we stay home. So, now it’s really an opportunity to enjoy it. Who cares? Did you see the Ronaldo goal against Juventus? This is football. So if we have the opportunity to not panic with Italy I will watch all the matches.
I don’t think I will go to Moscow to see the final. I’ve seen so many finals because I saw 1982 in Spain, 1986 in Mexico, 1990 in Italy, 94 in the US. I was in the Stade de France in 98 when we were kicked out by the French and of course in Berlin! I go only if Italy arrives to the final rounds. We don’t have that kind of opportunity this time so I will save lot of money and invest in good wine. I’ll be watching on TV so it’ll be a relaxing World Cup.