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Arco Maher Will Reid Stone Island
Arco MaherPhotography Will Reid

Tracing Stone Island’s legacy with the brand’s biggest fan

Archie Maher of vintage Stone Island supplier Arco Maher provides a lesson in the cult label’s history – plus, he shares his new lookbook and a short film

Founded in 1982 by Italian designer Massimo Osti, Stone Island first arrived on British shores via the casuals – football fans (or hooligans, as the press often portrayed them) who discovered the label when they were in Italy for away games. From there, the brand went on to be adopted into the wardrobes of those on the acid house and rave scenes during the 90s, along with those on the grime scene during the early 00s and of course present day. Not only worn by different subcultures, Stone Island (or ‘Stoney’ as its contemporary fans call it) is favoured by different classes and generations in our country – you’re just as likely to see a teen repping the label at a Skepta show as you are a middle-aged man at a football game.

For one guy – Archie Maher – his obsession with the label is on the next level. The founder of Arco Maher, which supplies and showcases vintage Stone Island gear specifically from the Massimo Osti days, discovered the brand in his teens and, after making his first purchase (a red and white nautical striped Marina t-shirt from eBay), has amassed a personal collection of over 160 pieces. As he shares Arco Maher’s new lookbook and an accompanying short film (directed by Will Reid and starring James Magee, Luke Storey, Kesang Ball and Tia O’Donnell), Maher tells us more about Stone Island’s heritage, what makes the brand so special and why there's so much more to it than “just a badge”.

Why do you think Stone Island is such an important brand?

Archie Maher Maher: Stone Island has played a significant part in many different subcultures. In the UK most people know about Stone Island in terms of the ‘casual culture’ – a term that describes the football fans in the 1980s who wore lots of designer clothing. These blokes brought the brand over here in the early 90s from Italy and other European countries. The label effectively became a staple for them, giving them a sense of classiness and pride. It was then adopted by other subcultures like the house and rave scene, your Manchester Hacienda lot, London rude boys and grime stars.

However, the first people to truly take on Stone Island as their own, in the mid-80s, were a group of young and rich girls and guys from Milan – known as the Paninaro. They jumped onto brands like C.P. Company, Moncler and Timberland and would ride their mopeds from café to café, never failing to look on point.

Can you tell us a bit more about casual culture?

Archie Maher: It started with English football fans travelling around Europe, where they would see these swanky Italian and French guys donning Stone Island, Fila and other sportswear brands. Many of them would buy the clothing and almost use it as a disguise, to avoid hassle from the feds as they wouldn’t be wearing their clubs’ colours. Since then, it’s effectively become a uniform for them.

Sadly, there are some negative connotations surrounding Stone Island as in some ways the casual culture has been pretty closely associated with football hooliganism. Although, this has helped give the brand an even richer history and more publicity.

“It started with English football fans travelling around Europe, where they would see these swanky Italian and French guys donning Stone Island, Fila and other sportswear brands” – Archie Maher

The brand’s class connotations are quite interesting – it’s a real range of people who are into it.

Archie Maher: Definitely, that’s partly why I got so hooked – the audience is really diverse and the brand appeals to so many different types of people. On a lot of these online forums and groups, you’ve got this older generation, guys in their 50s and 60s who’ve been wearing it since day one and can tell you about the experimentation with a pigment or the production of a fabric in let’s say SS88.

Then there’s this younger generation, guys and girls in their late teens and early 20s who roll about head to toe in an AW13 tracksuit and call it ‘Stoney’ – a generalisation to be fair, but you can see the variety of Stone Island enthusiasts is very wide, which I rate a lot.

It’s kind of quite cross-generational in a way...

Archie Maher: Yeah exactly. The thing is, I don’t necessarily think Osti thought the younger generation would take on the brand as they have done. When he founded Stone Island in ’82 his target audience was really the older, sophisticated gentleman who enjoyed golfing, skiing, sailing and a life of luxury. When I visited the Massimo Osti Archive in July, his daughter, Agata, guided me around the heavy 7000-piece collection of Osti’s lifework. She told me that the Osti family hadn’t quite appreciated his global fan base until he sadly died in 2005. The Osti Archive released a book in recent years named Ideas from Massimo Osti which sold out instantly, which also demonstrated his cult following.

How did your obsession with his work and Stone Island begin?

Archie Maher: I reckon it was around three years ago, when I was about 18 and I bought one of my first pieces on eBay. It happened to be a vintage piece, which I fell in love with instantly. It’s a red and white nautical striped Marina t-shirt which has never left my collection, even though I’m sadly too big for it. A couple months later I bought a few vintage jumpers and a jacket, and it just snowballed from there. There was something about rocking these pieces that I loved, in terms of their quality, comfort and overall aesthetic.

In terms of Arco Maher, by the time I got to uni I’d already been collecting and selling vintage Stone Island for a while and wanted to take things further. My Instagram page really aims to supply and showcase the most interesting and unique Stone Island pieces from the 80s/90s and early 2000s. So I began this project where I conduct these shoots and lookbook films, and experiment with the clothing being worn by a variety of models. From there I’ve had a couple pop-up shops around London, which have been great, allowing me to curate exhibition spaces showcasing my work and meet fellow enthusiasts.

How many pieces have you got?

Archie Maher: Rah, I never really know. But I think I’ve probably got about 160 pieces at the moment. There’s about 15/20 pieces I’ll never be able to part with unless I’m horribly broke…. Because I really just adore them too much and worry that I’ll never come across anything like them again.

And you only collect from a specific period, right?

Archie Maher: Yeah, I really only collect pieces from 1982 (when the brand was started) to the early 2000s. I’m not massively interested in any pieces after 2006. I try to source the majority of the pieces from the 80s period because that’s when Osti was running things before he left around 1996. I’m always hunting for pieces from the Marina Range as that’s my obsession.

What were the visuals like back then?

Archie Maher: They were fairly different actually. I have these amazing lookbooks from the early 90s, which beautifully portray the clothing on its own. Massimo was sometimes reluctant to photograph the clothing on models, as he believed it was best to present the clothing on its own without any distraction and in its natural form. Even in the early 2000s the visuals were very minimalist.

Nowadays it’s fully changed – their casting is really good, and they’re always getting models of different ethnicities. That’s definitely important and something I do whenever I organise any shoots. It also helps overcome the stereotype and any lingering racism associated with football hooliganism and the casual culture.

What else were you going for with your own shoot?

Archie Maher: The director and photographer of this film Will Reid and I came together to work on this project, where we wanted to touch upon the exclusive Paninaro concept - by capturing these guys and girls from the 21st century wearing these beautiful pieces from the 80s and 90s. We titled the film The New Paninaro paying homage to the brand’s first subculture. Essentially, I was keen for the film to educate people about the amazing pieces Stone Island have created and let people know it’s not just about the badge.