Massimo Osti, the godfather of sportswear.
Crowned the most important man of 1990s menswear by Arena Homme +, Massimo Osti (1944–2005) was one of the most respected and imitated designers of his generation, whose innovations confounded the rules of the industry and created the fabrics of today.
source: legendary article from ARENA mag FW 1995 text by Christopher Hemblade
Jump and the earth will rise to meet you. ” this quintessentially optimistic maxim hangs over the central Computer Massimo Osti’s vast design archives. To reach it, you must first negotiate the Beverly Hills-style security gates at the entrance to Osti’s Studio in Bologna, pass the camouflage-covered storage containers in the car park, negotiate to friendly receptionist, meet with bilingual assistant Anna (who is married to Osti’s other assistant-cum-surrogate-limb, Massimo Mk II), and be overawed by the artwork of Bolognese painter Manai on the walls.
You finally arrive at the centre of the Osti complex (each staff member has 500sq meters of space), where sit the computer and the sign, which is a succinct summing-up of what Osti has done since he moved from a graphics job in advertising to design his first range of T-shirts some 20 years ago.
In a sense, he has done for menswear what Issey Miyake has done for womenswear – worked outside fly-by-night trend and concentrated on fabric innovation instead. Indeed, any list of the garments Osti has created reads like a fabric magician’s handbook: a stonewashed jacket (he invented stonewash) for Stone Island, rubberized wool for CP Company, colour iridescent jackets (the first designer to use them) for Stone Island, Tecnowool for Osti Production, Thermojoint for Left Hand. The magic comes from the fact there is a surprise lurking in each one: you’ll flip up a collar and discover there is a different material underneath, or you’ll look inside a jacket and find that there is another gilet or jacket within it. “At times I do this for a sense of fun. But it’s mainly so thet one garment can be used for totally different functions,” says Osti. All of the aforementioned clothes or fabrics were considered bizarre at the time of their conception but went on to become huge sellers and, more importantly, significant parts of fashion history.
Massimo Osti, the man, never sought to be significant in the pantheon of fashion. “My main character flaw is that I am not into press relations, into publicizing myself,” he says, drawing the distinction between his comparatively low profile and the personality cults of, say, a Versace, Valentino, Karan or Klein. Meet him for the first time and you realize he’s actually very shy, combining visual elements of Renaissance nobleman ( a long, distinguished nose and thin lips, the gentle quietness of his brown eyes), down-at-heel artist (stubble and permanent prop of pipe) and sweeping down to his shoulders, flash watch, silver ring and leather thong).
When he has time to spare from his collections, he’d rather be sailing with his wife, motorcycling to an antiques fair or checking out vintage cars then succumbing to fashion razzmatazz.
And he doesn’t like interviews. He’s only once staged a fashion show, and that was for the extraordinary occasion of Berlin’s 150th anniversary celebrations. “I was obliged to do it and I did go into crisis about it;” Osti confesses.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t want to leave a record, a history of his work. Which is why he began, in 1987, to build a private archive of what now amounts to 20.000 garments (11.000 culled from other sources, 9.000 from his previous collection), arguably the largest collection of clothes compiled by any designer in the world. It Includes a sizeable number of military uniforms (his entire Left Hand range was based on the Swiss Army uniform), and is stored on the second floor of his studio, a ramshackle storage space exuding a fusty smell of history despite air conditioning and pristine white walls. “England is a particularly good source for used pieces,” he says, “and it is one of my major sources of inspiration. I love the gracefulness of British military uniforms, for example. England has good taste and elegance while America has practicality.
These archive pieces are the most important ingredient in his designing process. “The beauty with military garments is that nothing is left to chance, it is all thought out. Sometimes it is in the details – an internal pocket which you love more than anything and then you put it on a blazer and you mix it. And I always think the most beautiful thing is yet to come because I am going to design it. “He describes his designing as being inspired by “fruits of my experience. It is a reaction.”
It is the reaction which is currently driving him to work on bringing traditional womenwear fabrics, such as jersey, into the menswear arena. “Whenever I try to work out a new material, the feel of these materials is never equivalent to their actual value. And when people see something new, there is a lot of resistance. Often a big name designer is so far removed from reality that they look at these so-called new materials and think that the fabrics are too far removed from reality. What they don’t realise is that these are all materials that have been used in different way before”.
Osti’s new research will be applied to his Osti production Collections (Which includes a Far East project where all garments will be produced in the Orient), Stone Island, Left Hand and a collection called Structure which he is designing for an American company (he no longer design CP). The frustration inherent in trying to drag menswear into the next millennium are constant: “My clients are “educated”. Yet men are much more conservative than women. Many times you have to insist, but you can’t convince men to change. A woman can take an idea and accept it immediately, but a man, if it’s too new, will not even look at it. The acceptance process is much slower.”
Osti also experienced this in political spectrum, when, as an Independent Left town councillor, he came out with radical proposals. Just as with his fashion innovations, “people thought these ideas were too new. I went into politics because I share a lot of what the Left stand for. But they can be obtuse when it comes to new things, which is not correct. “Consequently, his altruistic plan to open a cinematography centre for ghetto dwellers in Bologna was shelved after a year. No longer a councillor, he wants to remain independent so he can be “free to express himself”.
Massimo Osti has always known that sometimes when you jump, the earth takes a while to rise and meet you.