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Locating Menswear: Italy

The concluding denouement of the Locating Menswear research series points to Italy’s role in shaping menswear’s industrialisation, and in turn, its international landscape.

Sites of countless luxury ateliers and manufacturing house’s, Italian production is the ultimate signifier of quality – the benchmark for the upper echelons of industry standard. Moreover, it’s the site of the second oldest global Fashion Week; the tailor’s nation for centuries; the home to generations of textile and silk merchants. As such, this rich genealogy has aided a global interconnectivity between Italian trade and talent. Further, one that has spread across continents, feeding into the hand of Italy’s status as a vanguard for menswear.

After chronicling the fabric stories of London, Liverpool and Manchester, Italy, and in particular its design archives, here enacts as the concluding markers for community, debate and research. Facilitating the unpicking of Britain’s relation to this theme, is Director of the Westminster Menswear Archive’s Professor Andrew Groves with Manchester Fashion Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University’s Jo Jenkinson.

Under this final Locating Menswear umbrella, Italy’s personal museums become the public gallery; dress, relics of a time gone by that’s shaping the menswear of tomorrow.

A kingpin in exploding the sartorial canon – both in Italy and beyond its borders – Massimo Osti now has messianic status since his designing days beginning in the early 1970s. With his appetite for material research, the late founder of pioneers C.P. Company, Stone Island and Left Hand had only reaffirmed Italy as the home of artisanal fashion. Harnessed within the nation’s rich textile history, Osti repudiated the idea that pragmatism should be sacrificed on the altar of innovative menswear, inventing new fabrications season after season.

To honour this legacy, a kickstarting tour of C.P. Company’s archive and studios uncovered the intima of the label’s research methodology. “Our visit to the C.P. Company design studios allowed us to see the complexity of their fabric innovation and how it underpins their approach to menswear,” Groves said of the visit, reflecting on the brand’s inner workings. “Allowing us to see both the paper design archive and the garments that Osti created, we began to notice themes in his work that we had previously missed.” From handwritten sketchbooks to research imagery, the visit opened a window into Osti’s world – personally and professionally – “enabling a group of people with diverse experiences and perspectives to come together and identify common threads of interest,” Jenkinson added.

Meanwhile, looking to Osti’s birthplace of Bologna, his personal archive spans 50,000 fabric swatches and 5,000 garments, early prototypes to rare editions. This collection chronicles a lifetime of futuristic vision, where the likes of Russian 20th century spacesuits and golf bags sit nestled within the city’s medieval centre. This location is arguably alike to its contents – one eye on heritage, the other on the future. Paving his own path on the journey to technical merit, it’s no hyperbole to say that Osti changed the course of menswear. Spearheading the likes of garment dyeing and silkscreen processing, alongside blending technicality into everyday fabrics, his time capsule allowed for “thinking and discussion in these inspirational spaces,” Jenkinson said, into menswear’s current journey.

Leading to the trip’s conclusion, a final stop in Ferrara led to the archives of Slam Jam. In 1989, Luca Benini's championing of streetwear inspired him to serve Europe's next generation of fashion acolytes from a remote rural warehouse, launching a business that has redefined the cultural significance of sportswear, as well as the ways in which it is designed, produced, distributed, and retailed. In the liminal space between clubbing, culture and community, the retailer brought independence to Italy’s establishment.

Thus, crystallising Benini's footsteps, his private collection has materialised into Archivio Slam Jam, a lens providing insight into the mind and heart of a man who favours the underground. From vintage Americana ephemera to collected business cards, the visit and opportunity for discourse “highlighted the global importance of streetwear and how, over the last 30 years,” Groves explained, “Luca Benini has been pivotal in that, and how his archive is critical in informing its future.”

“Create what does not yet exist,” Osti once said – an optimistic desire to not fear the unknown, but to strive for it. Bringing the future of menswear face to face with its past, the final segment of the Locating Menswear research project has also wished to decipher the same notion.


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