The Massimo Osti Studio's genesisA conversation with Andrew Groves and Robert Newman

Massimo Osti's legacy as a man and a designer can still be perceived today. At the same time, his innovative design methodology could not remain in the archives of memories but required a contemporary testament. In this conversation, Andrew Groves, Lorenzo Osti and Robert Newman talk about the genesis of the Massimo Osti Studio, from the first idea to the final realisation.

1. Why was Massimo Osti Studio founded? What is it that it is proposing to bring to the contemporary market?

Andrew: In my early discussions with Lorenzo last year when he was thinking of launching the Massimo Osti Studio, it immediately made me think of the Italian studio tradition, which can be traced back to the 15th Century and the studios of the Italian Renaissance, where the ‘hand of the master,’ was transferred from one generation to the next. When I established the Westminster Menswear Archive in 2016, it was based on Massimo Osti's personal archive, allowing us to use his research and design methodology for teaching.

Robert: It’s a fantastic opportunity and a privilege. That said, its obviously the biggest possible, most frightening thing to be the new person designing for the Massimo Osti Studio.

Andrew: But also I think it's an opportunity to explore and expand upon Osti’s design process. His work, and his archive, were building on the work of others, most notably industrial or military designers. His most important work, in my opinion, was this methodology that he created; the process of selecting garments designed by others and then physically photocopying and assembling them into new outcomes. It was a radical departure at the time, using the technology of the photocopier to turn 3D to 2D and then back into 3D.

2. The brand will unveil its products through dedicated Chapters. How does this launch structure work?

Andrew: I know one of the key decisions early on was the structure, which is not seasonal but rather informed by the processes and materials that the studio will focus on for the year ahead. Therefore the multiple releases for any year are referred to as chapters. For me, I saw that literary connection as to how some classic books were originally published as serial novels, such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, or Ulysses by James Joyce.

Robert: For me, its about the ideas. It's the thought processes rather than materials and designs that should drive this, though obviously they enable us to express those ideas. That's what I really love about Osti is that he built a world and everything was covered. There was a perspective on the environment, there was perspective on music, there was perspective on art.

Andrew: I like that idea you were saying about thinking about each chapter and I was looking at the things that you’re producing as being part of a canon, in terms of they all fit together within this world, and that it doesn't matter when they were produced or who by;they all have a commonality to them. In effect its building on Osti’s idea of the continuative garment.

And of course language is key to the prototypes that I saw earlier in the year, they were all covered with small pieces of masking tape that had handwritten comments in various languages suggesting where things might need altering or adjusting.

Robert: I love how these techniques get developed through the process, you know, it's like the photocopying. That it’s still analogue, that they still do that and it works really well. So much better than digital in reality, you know.

3. From concept to execution, how did you try to create a link between the past and the future?

Robert: It started with the materials. The Massimo Osti Studio is very much pushing the development of materials and what’s technically possible, some of which are incredibly expensive and at least one garment that will be released next year, will actually sell at a loss, buts its important that we challenge what’s possible, to push things forward.

Andrew: I know early on you visited the Massimo Osti Archive in Bologna. What did you focus on while there?

Robert: From the Bologna archive, I just picked liners. I mean Massimo’s vintage ones, not ones that he designed necessarily, but ones he’d collected and used as reference garments. I mean proportion is, you know, everything, and the proportions for everything started from a very simple liner jacket that was part of a project that Massimo did for a brand called London Fog. But that's where the main garment block came from.

Andrew: I know we talked a lot about the continuative garment, as apposed to the seasonal fashion garment.

Robert: You know that idea of fashion is something that's, you know, not to bring up the Oscar Wilde quote. But you know what? It’s a form of ugliness so absolutely unbearable…

Andrew:…that we have to alter it every six months.

Robert: And we don't have to do that. What we’re doing with the Massimo Osti Studio can exist as a form of archive and it builds and builds and builds and builds, and some of it's right for the time, and some of it isn't, but it all exists together.

Andrew: One of the reasons I was excited to work with the Massimo Osti Studio was that they agreed to donate one sample of each garment produced during the first year to the Westminster Menswear Archive.

Robert: I think that's great. I think it's really important.

Andrew: The idea is that those garments will be in our archive on the day each chapter is released. In effect, the entire project begins and ends with an archive. It is radical in that it allows the next generation of designers to immediately study the experimental work of the Massimo Osti Studio and inform what comes next.

4. In what way can the products of the Massimo Osti Studio represent the perfect balance between technological innovation and craftsmanship?

Robert: Have you seen the Alcantara garments? They form the first chapter. The material is usually used for the interiors of luxury cars, for the seats. Its been incredibly challenging to make garments with it. In the simplest way, it basically gets glued together using a mesh tape in between each segment; it's very tactile.

Andrew: It looks super-modern and minimalist, I think that’s because we’re so used to see stitching all over garments and its almost entirely absent here.

Robert: You know, Stefano (Polato) will talk about minimising stitching at the expense of, you know, maximising glue, but I guess everyone's so bored of stitching, so it's cool to do something else, I mean, the reason stitching happens so much is that it's quite good and it works really well. But I really wanted to push this as it felt it was the right method for the material. The main jacket is very straightforward, but actually its a really nice jacket to wear, it has this removable graphene liner.

Andrew: I remember one of the earliest samples that I saw in early 2023 and I thought it had far too many details, and it wasn’t until I spoke to you, that you said you’d put as many details on it as possible to test the manufacturer, and then you were going to remove as much as possible. It made me think of methodologies of design and how we think of failure as a bad thing rather then a testing of our thesis using our methodology. I remember saying to Lorenzo (Osti) in order to learn and to create something new we must embrace failure, it’s a critical part of the creative process and one of the principles of how I teach. I think the pressure for any designer to balance creativity and commerciality is very heard these days.

Robert: Yes, I'll be interested to see how that works out. I think, I mean my brief here as a designer is to make something that's successful, which is why I'm keeping it so tight; it was my decision to take it material by material. For example, the 3D jacquard weave that allows us to weave the garments pockets and other details within the materials has taken years of development.

Andrew: What's exciting for me, is that it’s returning to that materiality which was at the heart of what Osti did. I just think that the material is so fantastic, how much more design detail does it need? So its about highlighting that and removing away unnecessary design. When you show that jacquard to someone who understands materials and fabrics, their reaction is astonishment.

5. What is the mood and what is the aesthetic inspiration that reflects the essence of the Massimo Osti Studio? Why?

Robert: My initial decision was that each chapter would focus on a different material which would then be developed further, to push its capabilities and what we can do with it. So it’s really a testing ground for us. For the 3D jacquard this is exemplified by the ditty bag we have created. So, when a sailor went to sea, they obviously needed to be able to hand repair the ship's sails, so they would carry all of their personal tools in something called a ditty bag.

Andrew: Right.

Robert: So the ditty bag was made using all of the skills you would use to repair sails, so our version is basically a version of that highlighting the skills we have developed using the 3D jacquard weave which allows the external pockets to woven all in one with the bag. You know, like often Massimo would use bag factories to make jackets. I liked the idea of using a jacket fabric to make bags. I think that connection to sailors and the sea is such a strong aspect of Osti’s work.

Andrew: Yes, the last time I was in the archive in Bologna, I was looking at the celestial print that Massimo did, and I suddenly realised it was actually about steering a boat using the stars. It was a very profound and romantic idea of travelling at night. So really was it about dreaming, about travelling in the mind.

Robert: Similarly, I think the ditty bag is a talismanic object. You know in that one object it represents both an entire ship, but also the individual sailor and his skills. It reminds me of the German artist, Wolfgang Laib, collects grains of pollen and uses that as the material for his art. You know it has this beautiful colour, but in a pinch of pollen you have an entire forest. It's one thing that refers to this entire world. So the talismanic property of the ditty bag, is that it is the container for the tools that creates the object, and that is created by the hands that will carry it.