Issue 1, 2019 Massimo Osti Archive    

Predicting the future for Levi's ICD+

Image from Issue 1

Words Seth Footring 
Photography Arjun Sohal 
Video available online by Ben Sandall

“If you jump the ground will rise to meet you”

Quote from Massimo Osti's desk 

Massimo Osti was a visionary, a designer whose exploits are well known and well celebrated. From textile innovations to creating and designing Bonneville, Stone Island and C.P. Company the Bologna based creative opened concept stores in New York's Flat Iron building, dressed the participants of the Mille Miglia race and went to the Amazonian Rainforest with Sting.  

The archive, separate to the Stone Island and the C.P. Company ones, is situated on a quiet street and sits in a building that just prior to us arriving was renovated and had new lights put in by Italian brand Flos. The vaulted ceilings and racks and racks of jackets, trousers, sweaters, flight suits, textile development swatches and assorted ephemera all came together to make the place feel like a church to clothing design and development.  

The Stone Island badge and the C.P. Company goggles are powerful draws to most people and represent incredible forays in to textile design and development. However I think they often overshadow Osti's other achievements in design. Read enough interviews and you will fast realise that he didn't consider himself a fashion designer, rather he saw clothes as a product with a purpose. More and more in the latter parts of his career he answered questions through design. The pinnacle of this later phase of his work is the Levi's collaboration with Phillips – ICD+. We were very excited to go to the Massimo Osti archive in Bologna to research this article, to photograph jackets and chat to Lorenzo Osti, the late Massimo's son, who runs with archive with his sister Agata.  

Image from Ideas of Massimo Osti; Levi’s ICD+ JacketIf you think back eighteen years to 2000ish we all had tiny phones, people bought magazines in large numbers and indie music was incredibly popular. People listened to music on mp3 players or maybe an ipod if you were really cool and could afford it. There was no way to control everything all in one go, it was impossible to do what an iPhone does now. The concept that Osti set out was to solve this problem through a set of hardware systems that included a phone, mp3 player and control panel provided by Phillips and outerwear pieces that were manufactured by Levi's. Extremely functional and beautiful in it's totalitarian purpose, the first and only iteration of the project came as a khaki parka in a waterproof fabric with copious pocket space and, because this is Massimo Osti, an integrated vest. The whole jacket folded and zipped in to a large pocket on the back of the vest. The housing for the electronic items were zipped away and connected through a series of wires that in hindsight were huge, although probably cutting edge at the time. When seeing this jacket in person, with all the electronic elements plugged in and connected, you feel impressed. That's before you consider the date that it was made. A similar jacket now, if we assume it were to be made, would probably have haptic response and controls embedded in to the fabric of the jacket. On the non-fictional original there are even holders for the ear phones. Current versions of this feature can be seen in jackets by Acronym where earphones can be stored on a magnetic strip. In fact in the foreword of Ideas by Massimo Osti, the compendium of his life's work, Errolson Hugh of Acronym and William Gibson, sci fi author and creator of the term cyber space, discuss Osti's precognitive use of fabrics and ideas,  

“I'm always annoying people with “that thing that you think is new is actually 30 years old and was invented by this guy in Bologna you've probably never heard of”(Errolson Hugh).  

“I saw a black nylon coat there. Not Stone Island, I was told, but designed by Stone Island's founder. I didn't buy it, but then it haunted me. The future I now know, was literally in it. So many aspects of where intelligent streetwear would go in the 21st Century.” (William Gibson). 

If you care to, read the articles that were done for the press launch of ICD+ and they talk about how the mp3 player slows down to stop to allow you take a call, about the aims to democratise these types of technology to everyone.  

As we go through the hanging samples you work out the ICD branding; large removable padding inserts that were conceived to be protection against the impact of falling of a scooter or other small vehicle. There are what look to be YKK aquaguard zips, the waterproof ones with the taped edges that are totally impenetrable. Taped seams are predominant and there are a lot of different rubberised finishes to the fabrics that have since gone sticky, appear to have melted or in some cases pretty turned in to a resin-y goo that means that one particular jacket is covered in a poly bag. It's a reminder that these have been around for a while. What I keep coming back to throughout the trip and throughout leafing through various pieces of paper, clothing and scribbles is that I am seeing this now in front of me – the waterproof zips and the taped seams and the rest – and I can see it in menswear today. If you were to take a scroll down your Instagram timeline and check out some menswear brands these are details that are predominant, almost standard.  

I put this to Lorenzo, how does it feel to see things so similar to what your father did, and he gives me a very continental smile that could mean everything, could mean nothing and says something non-committal. He is a true gentleman. He explains the concept behind ICD and ICD+ (Industrial Clothing Design, the + only relates to the collaboration with Philips), that Massimo was trying to create things for the youth to move round that wouldn't hinder an ability to ride a scooter or bike. It's worth remembering that this is Italy in 2000, it's safe to assume that this is essentially the only mode of transport.  

This is the archive that features all the fabric development and the drawings for each collection. Both a glimpse in to the mind and process of the man who designed ICD+, introduced rope systems to keep jackets and liners together and put reflective materials in to outerwear and a snapshot of the time. There are plenty of visual merchandising guides, wholesale catalogs, printed line sheets of collections and more. You definitely look at them and hear the sound of a printer and copier working hard. Flicking through the boxes and boxes of paper that are available it becomes apparent that it's not all solid gold hits. There was a huge amount of work that went in to getting things right. You note that Massimo is actually is a very talented draftsman with a keen understanding of how the human body moves. It's reminiscent a little of Aitor Throup in places. There are quick sketches, little notes, pieces of paper taped together. It's beautiful and it's chaotic.  

Another running theme of the ICD archive is a silver material that is very similar to what you see marathon runners or refugees draped in. The silver crinkly one that looks like a fancy tinfoil. At one point Lorenzo explains that it's incredibly warm to wear and reflects heat back in on you. This is on the outside of zip up vests but is lined superbly on a classic Osti shaped jacket – boxy, naval looking with toggles but a neoprene hood. It's another example of looking at a sample that possibly never saw the light of day but is something that's been used so much since. This is probably as good point as any to point out that Massimo Osti didn't invent all of these fabrics, and in some cases he would have used them but it didn't go in to production. This is probably especially the case with the short lived ICD. My point is more that he had the idea to use it, and that it's been adopted so much since.

Of course, we spend a little time looking at the more obvious, well documented items as well: Stone Island reflective jackets, CP knitwear, at one point Ben mentions that he's not seen a Mille yet and we are dutifully shown an original cotton version of the famous Mille Miglia jacket, sourced from Too Hot for a tidy sum. As well we examine the curious pieces in the archive – stratospheric flight suits, jackets that have been completely cut up, jackets with photocopied pockets pinned on – this is  part of Osti's process, remixing existing jackets. Eventually I realise that this is not just an archive of finished product, it's an archive of Massimo Osti's process. There are failures, there are successes, things that never made the light of day and things so nice you would see people come to blows over. That was the magic of Osti, carried over to today in places in different ways, creating things that make you marvel.  

The other collection that fascinates me is Left Hand. The collection that signified a break from C.P. Company and Stone Island and the beginning of going to parts unknown. Named after himself, he was left handed, the company was a partnership with the Allegri family. Designing for a dystopian future, he developed two main fabrics to use which were Thermojoint, nuclear radiation resistant, and Micro, developed from a thermopressing technique originally for paper. At the time this would have been quite a revolution, but then the whole idea of Osti's work isn't to fall in with anyone else. It's just to make the most forward thinking things with the given materials. That's what sets him apart. That's why when he jumped, the ground rose to meet him.  

With special thanks to Lorenzo Osti.

Image from within issue by WellWishers88.