50 years ago Massimo Osti created his label Chester Perry and entered into the world of Italian streetwear. His collections have always featured natural color shades, a unique comfort and functionality inspired by military uniforms and workwear, which would become the founding components of his success and a milestone for sportswear and fashion subcultures: His designs found popularity from the Milanese paninari to British football casuals.
C.P. Company creates clothes that looked like they had been worn forever, that people had continued to use without ever throwing them away. Now after 50 years, C.P. Company celebrates its history with a book: “C.P. Company 971 – 021. An informal history of Italian sportswear”, curated by Lodovico Pignatti Morano and with photographs by Neil Bedford.
Lorenzo Osti, C.P. Company’s CEO and son of Massimo Osti, accepted to meet us to talk about his father’s design aesthetic, the launch of the book and more.
What does the book launch mean to you?
Lorenzo Osti: Of course, it’s very important. This year for the anniversary we made a lot of projects, each dedicated to different aspects of the brand. But the book, let me tell you, is probably the most important, because it’s more like a global storytelling. The book is divided in two parts. One part is more technical and goes through the most significant garments that C.P. Company developed in 50 years, but what I found the most interesting part is the other. It’s an ovation of the brand through a gallery of portraits of people for whom the brand had a special meaning in their life. Some of them are famous, some not, they come from all over the world. We shot the photos in Italy, London and Japan last year. What I like the most about this format is, that it’s really underlying the feeling of community that our brand has, an original perspective and also much more warm and inclusive than anything else we could have done. I actually was in Bologna, my hometown, in the main city square last night presenting the book, it’s been very emotional.
Has the feeling of community always been important for the brand?
LO: Absolutely! I’m dedicating a lot of time trying to decode or understand this community, because very different people have affection for this brand, and it is something that makes C.P. Company special. My reason for this ist, that it has something to do with the ability of the brand to connect to the contemporary, to the “now” as it is sometimes called, and this also connects to the people. Our fanbase is really heterogenous, from what we call the hardcore fans, who kept the brand alive in these 50 years with many struggling times. This is our most loyal consumer base, it’s people who have lived with the brand in the 80s and 90s, but then we recently build an all new community: 40% of the website traffic is from people below 24 years old. The Italians that wore the brand at the early beginning are a very different to the paninaro, who adopted the brand later or even the casuals who adopted the brand in UK. We are a diverse community and we wanted to represent them all in the book.
C.P. Company has always been defined by a neutral color palette and practical utilitarian touches, where did those elements of you DNA came from?
LO: Both of these aspects are a consequence of the working methods of C.P. Company originally developed by my father Massimo Osti in the 70s. He created the two main pillars that you identified. One is, let’s say, the shape, the design and the other one is the fabric or the material. Regarding the shape my father was very fascinated by utilitarian garments, because in his mind, garments must be practical and long-lasting. He conceives garments as a piece of design not to be changed every season. Where to look if you want something that is practical and is meant to last? Well, work wear and military wear. They are interesting also for another reason, my father used to say “the military never have a problem with budget”, meaning their garments have the best quality on the market. He started to collect and build this archive with those garments and every collection started with a study of the archives. Regarding the tones my father hated “new garments”, garments that look fresh out of the box, and for this reason he experimented with washing and especially with dyes, creating subtle shades of color.
Is it important for you to carry on your father’s legacy as a family owned brand?
LO: Yes, now I feel the responsibility for the next 50 years of C.P. Company. But at first I didn’t follow my father’s footsteps. I was working with him when I was 21, but I wanted to do something on my own, never expected to work in the fashion industry. It wasn’t until 2005, when my father passed away, I had to deal with everything he had created. My intention was to preserve his memory and bring it to the new generation. And still, I’m trying to build a long-lasting future, I’m really projected over the next 10-20 years and reflecting on what this brand has to do to remain relevant generations coming. Most of my efforts are put into building and rebuilding strong foundations and to understand the current society to be able to stay connected to it.
Is it difficult to stay relevant as a sportswear inspired brand when the market is saturated with established and new brands?
MO: I think, that’s the challenge for everyone. I’m just trying to stay consistent regarding the origin of the brand, not from an aesthetic point of view, but from a point of view, that respect the principles. No, it’s not difficult now to be relevant, because we are relevant, and it happened without us aiming to it. It’s hard to stay relevant when the society changes, now we are pushed by waves, but we need to be able to stand up when the power flows down. It is a work in process, I don’t have that answer yet. I’m working with a semiologist, I’m working with a sociologist, we really try to stay connected with the contemporary world and with the new generation.
How would you describe C.P. Company today?
LO: That’s a difficult question to answer. In short: C.P. Company is a design brand. Design meaning that we produce objects of design in the broader sense, we apply aesthetic to function, and function must come first. My father always wanted to create garments, that last forever and aren’t seasonal, and we try to do the same. If I have to define C.P. Company as a brand, I would say that we listen to the society and then try to translate this into something that is meant to last. These two aspects are very important: Understanding and staying open, this is our community aspect, and design without trying to be influenced by nothing else than the contemporary society we live in.
Why do you think your brand resonates among British football subcultures?
LO: That’s a very funny story. My father wasn’t an English speaker and didn’t like to travel, so we really didn’t know about that community. We knew that we sold a lot in England but that’s it. When Internet and Social Media arrived, we discovered images of it. There is a simple story behind it: In the 90s and 80s when the UK was struggling with Thatcher as Prime Minister and it was a very depressing moment with a lot of unemployment, especially in the North, the Sunday football games became really one of the only joys to these people. Clubs like Liverpool or Manchester United started to win more and participated in European Cups, and there was this small Erasmus travel agency called Transalpino, who was arranging cheap trains for students and then also cheap transfers for UK fans. They arrived in Italy and found the paninaro here, all these colorful Italian brands never seen in the UK before. But as they could barely afford the trip itself, they started to steal from the shops and they went back to England with nice coats from Stone Island, C.P. Company or Ellesse. The Sunday matches were the most important social moment for the British middle class, and they wore their Italian fashion. It’s a very unusual way of setting a trend, but I found it so fascinating because even if they were stolen, I like clothes moving between subcultures, instead of being worn by just high-class mature people.
What’s next for C.P. Company?
LO: We have so many things in the pipelines. From a brand perspective, we are setting up a kind of permanent think-tank, that will be able to understand the society. I come from the digital world as my background is in digital marketing, so we are working very fast on that, on digital retail via our website and we also want to create an app. I sometimes feel like we are still a startup, because there are many thing to do.
Interview by Marien Brandon
All images Courtesy of C.P. Company