27 February 2017
Q&A with Lorenzo Osti
By Victoria Jackson, MWB editor.
Lorenzo Osti, President at Massimo Osti S.r.l and son of the iconic designer who founded labels such as Stone Island and C.P Company, attended the second day of London tradeshow Jacket Required to take part in an exclusive Q&A interview in collaboration with Proper magazine.
Held on the upper level of the show, Osti was interviewed by Massimo Osti devotee and writer of 80s Casuals, Jay Montessori and Ollie Evans, founder of vintage e-tail store Too Hot Limited. MWB was on hand to hear exactly what it was like growing up with the late Osti and what's next for the brands that are still as relevant today as they were then.
Ollie Evans: What was it like growing up in Bologna?
Lorenzo Osti: Growing up the 70s in Bologna was exciting and our house was always open. We had people coming in and out all the time. Most of the friends of my parents were musicians or writers so it was a great environment to grow up in. One thing I remember as a boy was that I never wanted to go to sleep because there was always something happening. And of course, it was also exciting for me to visit my father's work space. For the first ten years I rarely saw him as he was leaving before I was awake and coming back when I was still in bed, but then he moved to a studio close to the house, which was a villa up in the hills, so I started visiting the studio regularly and was super excited - it was like a kids playground, with fabrics and garments everywhere.
Jay Montessori: There's a particular photograph of Massimo with you as a young child which always sticks in my mind as such an iconic shot. Do you remember growing up when he was asking you to model his products? Did he ask your opinion of the Bambino range as a young boy?
LO: Not really on the fit of the garments but it was very common for him to lend garments and prototypes to friends. He would give someone a jacket and say wear it for a week and tell me how it works, if you like it, how you feel. And of course, at that time, everything was made in-house, we never booked any professional models. All the faces you see in the C.P Company magazine were all friends. I would be in the kids catalogue and my mother used to shoot it, so it really was a friends and family environment, which was also very creative.
OE: What do you think it is about your father's work that inspires such devotion in people?
LO: This was actually something I discovered a bit later and of course it's a great honour and we're super pleased about that. I really don't know why, but what happened with me is that, when you see someone taking about C.P Company they remember with such love. People have a kind of affection for the brand. I don't have a rational answer, but I spend a lot of time trying to understand why. I think for sure it's because everything was made with real passion and dedication. It has an authentic feeling running throughout.
JM: Your father was one of the most influential men in the fashion industry for myself, and many people in this room. Is it overwhelming for yourself, and your sisters, to be the children of someone who is seen, especially in the UK, as a god?
LO: Yes of course. This is actually something which happens here, but in Italy not so much. The love and affection people have here is great. I personally discovered this when my father passed away. His brands were so successful it was not easy to see the dedication because everyone was buying his clothes, but when they became a little less popular, we notice in the UK especially, there was this huge group of fans who loved his designs still. I started to speak to these people and we would email back and forth - the archive exhibition is actually born thanks to that. We had a lot of garments stuck in the warehouse and we thought nobody would really care about those, but when we discovered there was such a love here, we decided to invest some money and create the archive and create the book.
OE: What prompted your father to start his archive?
LO: My father started the archive in the 70s, especially as at that time it was very easy to find workwear and military pieces. The reason why he was so in love with these garments was because he said every detail that was on a military design was there for a purpose - there was no room for fancy things, decoration or whatever. His way of designing was not very good. It would be very simple. His way of working would be to study the garments, pick elements he liked and add to other garments. He would study the functionality of military garments, so the archive was essential to his way of working. It became something like 35,000 pieces, but it was at the beginning of 2000 that we began to sell some because it was too much. What people don't know is that we have so many unreleased prototypes from around the early 2000's and following that didn't get used.
JM: Your father went on to create some fantastic, forward thinking products, particularly Left Hand and Production. What happened to these labels?
LO: Left Hand started when my father was still designing Stone Island. It was very simple and very straight and that's why he loved it. He said he wanted to be very focused. He wanted to do one brand, one fabric and one concept. There were only a few pieces. The manufacturer my father was working with then sold the company. The reason people still have so much respect for Left Hand was because it was very pure. Production, however, is another story. My father was approached by a business man who offered him the opportunity to create a new brand. It was after he had left C.P Company and it was exciting for him to start a new chapter, so he accepted and the brand - Production - was incredibly successful. From a product point of view, Production was completely different to Stone Island and C.P Company. He invented a new fabric, technowool, with new silhouettes. The brand was making about 25 billion lira after four seasons so it was incredibly successful. But every season it was losing money. So after the sixth season my father asked for an audit and then we discovered the whole operation was a scam. The guy who had approached my father was pretty smart because my father was so deeply involved it meant he couldn't go to the police or he would have been arrested himself. The company went bankrupt and my father paid the suppliers out of his own pocket. The guy disappeared like a movie and was never seen again. So that's the reason why no-one really knows much about Production.
OE: You're back at C.P Company now as head of marketing. Is it exciting being back at your father's original brand?
LO: Sure, it's exciting yet somehow scary. It's something that is so big and has such an important heritage that you're afraid to do something wrong. But at the same time I really love that brand. I've seen it grow since I was a child. The first thing I did when I came on board was to look and realise the brand didn't have a very clear brand identity. I mean, Stone Island is easy. If you see a Stone Island garment you recognise this, because of the fabric, the innovation etc. C.P Company is slightly more sophisticated. There was still fabric innovation of course, but what we tried to work out was exactly why this brand was so relevant in the 80s and what we needed to do to make it that relevant today. I think we found a way - the brand needs to stay somewhere between heritage and innovation, without losing either of the two. There will always be the classic shapes - the parka, the field jacket - but there is always innovation of the fabrics and the performance of those so it's definitely an exciting challenge.
JM: Many fantastic designers come out of Italy your father being one of those people. Was there anyone in the early days that inspired him, or was it purely about the product?
LO: My father would intentionally avoid looking at the market. He never saw a catwalk, he didn't visit the fairs, he didn't want to know what other people were doing at the same time as he didn't want to be influenced. So from a product perspective I would say no. The only real inspiration was military and workwear. As a brand he always had such respect for Armani. He really recognised how innovating he had been, so he had huge respect for him.
JM: How do you feel about the legacy of Massimo Osti carrying on into a new generation?
LO: It's something that is completely unexpected. I'm 43 so people who are my age have lived the first moments of the brands, but for the younger guys to have so much passion for the brands, it's weird for me to understand. So at C.P Company, we are now trying to understand why people are adopting these brands once again. I think it's partly due to the returning trends of the 80s - kids are going into their parents wardrobes and pulling out garments they once wore. Perhaps they are looking for something authentic and different.
JM: Moving forward with C.P Company and your father's archive - what can we expect next? Would we see the resurrection of the fantastic Left Hand for example?
LO: I considered bringing back Left Hand but no, that won't happen. Regarding the archive, its mission to celebrate my father's work. I owe him this. He gave so much to myself and our family that the minimum we can do is keep his heritage alive and show a new generation what he did. We just released the second edition of the book so hopefully that will be well received. I would consider taking the exhibition around the UK, especially as I wasn't expecting such a great reaction to it here in London.