Of all the sportswear labels to go hip, who saw this coming? But Stone Island is hip, and this summer it’s everywhere. Its outerwear is on billboards in major cities, and even GQ is writing fashion pieces about it. Across the Atlantic, rappers Drake and Travis Scott have become Stone Island’s unofficial US ambassadors.
To me it makes sense. Stone Island takes a certain confidence to pull it off. I own a 1989 Camo Ice jacket and these jackets can sometimes wear you and not the other way round.
And elsewhere, the evidence is stacking up. This week it was announced that a third of the Italian heritage business is being sold to the same company that owns Farfetch, the online retailer, in a bid to send the label global. Matchesfashion.com describes Stone Island as “incredibly popular” this season, while Harvey Nichols has earmarked its lightweight outerwear as part of the “sports lad” look for this coming autumn/winter. It’s unusual that the department store even stocks it – £100 for a T-shirt is a lot, though not by Harvey Nichols’ standards. “And yet Stone Island consistently remains one of our best performing brands, with sales growing year on year” says Olly Smith, its menswear buyer.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment came when Drake Instagrammed a picture of himself a couple of years ago, mentioning Top Boy (the Channel 4 drama set in London) while wearing the label. Drake loves London. Everybody knows that. So much that the Mercury prize-winning grime artist Skepta’s label, BBK (Boy Better Know) put out one of his tracks. He wore the label for every UK date of his recent Boy Meets World tour. Of all the reasons why Stone Island is peaking, Drake wearing it is surely one of them.
Stone Island was created in 1982 in a design lab in Bologna by Massimo Osti. The Italian’s roots lay in industrial design, hence Stone Island became synonymous for its stripped-back aesthetic, which focused on technical fabrics and functional design, topped off with the unmistakably iconic compass logo patch. This might feel at odds with Italian fashion, particularly in the 1980s, geared as it was around sophisticated ready-to-wear. But soon after it launched, it became something else – to many of us it was code for a particular type of lad.
It was initially synonymous with two European tribes: the Paninari, 1980s-era Milanese youth who loitered around burger bars, and casual-wearing football lads in the UK. The Paninari looked like Duran Duran meets The Breakfast Club, wearing brightly coloured winter coats over Levi’s or Armani jeans and Timberland, and were signifiers, in one way, of capitalism in Italy. Stone Island would become a marker for their movement.
In the UK, meanwhile, the label proliferated on the terraces of Stoke City, Motherwell, Blackburn and in the post-industrial towns and cities of the north, entering into fashion folklore as a tough, working-class premium brand that could set you back a couple of months’ wages for a single jacket.
Its popularity has waned over the years but it still resonates with a certain type of man. When Liam Gallagher got enraged after someone stole his Stone Island jacket at Glastonbury this year, those same men felt for him. So the fact that it has become popular with a new generation of youth is surprising. As with anything involving a brand that has obsessive loyalty, fans may take umbrage with fashionable types co-opting their stuff. I was a bit baffled myself. But the truth is, it’s still there, on the terraces and among the pints.
And it makes sense – there has been a shift back to this sort of style: nostalgic, comfortable, hyper-masculine, unfiltered, all of which may explain the resurgence. That said, sometimes fashionable people just want well-made, technical clothes. Smith thinks it’s part of a wider movement within the luxury market: “We’re just noticing an increased interest in that sort of casual style label,” he says.
There are other theories. A recent article in the New York Times chanced upon a trend called “gorpcore” to represent fashion that borrows from the more practical brands worn by outdoors types. This is fashion as function, with labels like Stone Island (alongside Patagonia and North Face) being worn in a fashion-happy manner. Not head-to-toe North Face, but North Face paired with Calvin Klein and Palace. Gorpcore isn’t responsible for the return of Stone Island, but it does mark the tipping point for the practical, sportswear look that Stone island has been doing so well for the past 30-odd years.
It’s difficult for fans like me to write about Stone Island in a fashion context. Before the internet made it acceptable to have entire message board forums dedicated to the discussion of jackets, trainers and menswear brands, the men I knew didn’t talk about this stuff. We would see our friends wearing a nice jacket at the football or the pub and think, “Bastard, he’s got one of those” and then sneak off to find one in a different colour.
I sense that classic British working class ethic of, ‘Can’t afford it? Watch me, mate.’ And with the added factor of its past on the football terraces, it is a no-brainer that it became the go-to label for today’s young “roadman. For every angry-Stone Island dad there is a new Stone Island road youth, complete with side-bag and pair of Air Max. It is the natural law of the universe.
As to what happens next, we’ll see. There have been some clever collaborations with NewYork skate brand Supreme, as seen on Zayn Malik, and an opening of a grand Manhattan flagship store. Who knows, the Italian brand may finally have got the global foothold it deserves.