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Past, Present, Future

Dialogue | Paul Harvey and Alessandro Pungetti of Ten c


With over two decades of collaboration under their belts, designers and creative directors, Paul Harvey and Alessandro Pungetti, have formed a successful team that quite simply, works. Their contribution to the menswear landscape, both separately and as a partnership, is significant to say the least. During his 12 years at Stone Island in the mid ‘90s, Paul developed some of the most iconic outerwear pieces to come out of the former Massimo Osti label. Meanwhile, Alessandro is credited with adding a whole new dimension to the brand, bringing his knitwear know-how to a company best known for its outerwear.

Currently heading up C.P. Company and Baracuta, the pair found time to develop Ten c – a very personal project that is a natural culmination of both their working relationship and incredible wealth of outerwear knowledge. Seven years in and the cult independent brand remains an industry favourite, each jacket demonstrating the balance between simplicity and complexity that has marked much of the duo’s work.

At the heart of Ten c is a very special fabric that inspired the whole project: OJJ – Original Japanese Jersey. An incredibly intricate nylon polyester jersey that is simultaneously soft and durable, it had originally been rejected by other brands as too complex and costly to work with. Having spent their entire careers experimenting and innovating, neither was fazed and so they set about building a small selection of iconic military styles – parkas, field jackets and anoraks around this unique fabric. These investment pieces were designed to be worn hard and kept for a lifetime. The brand’s non-seasonal strategy focused on incredible quality and a commitment to sustainability from both the designer and consumer. In contrast to the storytelling and legend that surrounds Massimo Osti, Paul and Alessandro are quick to reject any notion of grand ideas or philosophies underpinning their work. Employed at some of the biggest names in the business since the ‘80s has left them with a realistic outlook on the industry; their job, as they see it, is simply to design great product and this unpretentious approach has freed them to do just that. Juggling three brands, side by side, I caught up with Paul and Alessandro at their Bologna studio to discuss the past, present and future of their prolific working relationship.

 


 

 


 

Tell us a bit about your background.

Alessandro: I was born and raised in Bologna and studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna. There was so much going on in Italy in the ‘70s in general, so many companies were coming through, designers like Armani for example were on the up. Bologna is a real student city, it has the oldest university in Europe and that means over 100,000 students concentrated in a very small, walled city. That creates a crazy atmosphere. So, even though I didn’t study fashion or have a particular interest in it, it felt like a natural step for me to move into that world because there was so much opportunity around it. Fashion, music, design and politics – all these things were bubbling and there was a strange connection between them all; people felt like anything was possible. Of course, it’s different now.

I started working with C.P. Company in the ‘70s when it was first founded. I then went on to work with brands like Zegna and Iceberg for quite a few years. Then about 20 years ago I met Paul. He suggested I come and work with him on the knitwear at Stone Island and a few years later, Carlo Rivetti brought me over to C.P. Company.

Paul, you studied fashion at Central Saint Martins?

Paul: Yes, I’m originally from Middlesbrough but moved south when I was 11 years old. I ended up at Saint Martins because I wanted to study something in the arts and the only way I could see myself making any money was by going into fashion. I was totally at odds with what Saint Martins was doing. At that time they were training students to work for the likes of Versace, Armani and Saint Laurent – I was very much interested in sportswear, which was non-existent then. That didn’t sit well with them. When I finished studying I did a year as a lorry driver; I wasn’t into the whole fashion thing, it wasn’t for me.

Then, by a series of strange coincidences I ended up moving to Italy. Basically I was delivering frozen food around the north and south circulars of London. I’d just made a delivery in Chiswick and passed a sports shop selling Fila. I was curious so I went in and spoke to the store owner who turned out to be the importer for Sport Italia  – which was a huge company at the time. I told him what I studied, showed him my portfolio and he ended up getting me an interview in Italy. I went out there in March 1979, but when I arrived it became apparent that Sport Italia knew nothing about me, they had no idea who I was. So, disappointed, I came back home on the train via Milan and ended up staying there for a while. Through a friend of a friend I met the team at Adriano Goldschmied and got a job with him. Following that I worked freelance, then ended up at Sabotage, which then lead directly to my move to Stone Island in 1995. While I was there I met Alessandro and asked him to work on our knitwear. That was it. It’s funny, if I hadn’t had walked into that sports shop on Chiswick High Street, none of this would have happened.

It’s been over 20 years of partnership. How would you describe your working relationship and what is the key to its success?

A: I’m very patient

P: Ditto. Well of course, we have our arguments, but we both come from similar work backgrounds. The playing field we operate on is the same and that makes everything easier. If we wanted to go in different directions then things could get difficult, but no, it’s good, it just works.

A: We respect one another. There is definitely a mutual admiration here.

Alessandro, you’re known specifically for your work with knitwear, can you elaborate on this?

A: Knitwear was always really natural for me throughout my career. When I introduced it to Stone Island for the first time, I understood there was an opportunity to shift the concept from cut and sew to fully-fashioned knitwear. Fortunately, I knew that world well; knitwear is to me what technical fabric is to Paul. It’s the same relationship.

P: Yes. It seems banal looking back on it now but what Alessandro brought to Stone Island was incredibly important. Massimo Osti wasn’t doing knitwear before that – it was more sweatshirts and the like. Alessandro came out of a knitwear background and brought that knowledge to Stone Island. Suddenly they were making proper knitwear. It stepped the whole game up and gave a tremendous amount of credibility to the company.

Now Stone Island and C.P. Company are known for two things: outerwear and knitwear. It’s a very different discipline that few people truly understand. In one way you’re limited, you have just two sleeves and a body and there isn’t much you can do with that. On the other hand, what you can achieve with one single thread, with a single stitch, is amazing. There’s a gigantic difference between cut and sew knitwear and fully-fashioned knitwear, which Alessandro is an expert in.

How would you describe the culture in the early days of Stone Island and C.P. Company?

P: At its core there was this concept that every 6 months you had to come up with something new. You just had to. Neither company at the time were doing big advertising campaigns, they were living almost entirely on the product so that was the challenge. Luckily they put the most amazing group of people behind us who enabled us to experiment.

Is the prospect of constant innovation exciting or terrifying?

A: Both.

P: The culture of innovation was a constant challenge and that was the great thing about the company, it’s why so many interesting things were created there. It was unique. When you’re having fun it’s great, when you’re not, it’s a different story. That’s one of the reasons I left. At one point I had worked 362 days straight – that’s not good. I would call Alessandro just to get his opinion on what was happening because I just couldn’t see it anymore, I couldn’t figure it out. I was just too involved.

A: It was very unusual to operate like this.

P: Perhaps there were a few Japanese brands pushing forward in a similar way, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons. The big houses like Gucci were trying to create something new, but for them it was about producing clothing solely to be photographed on the catwalk. We were creating clothing for people to wear; it was a totally different approach.

Stone Island was really incredible. From the moment you first walked in, you had to show what you could do and prove yourself. We were creating things that we couldn’t have elsewhere because a lot of other companies just wouldn’t have been prepared to do it. We’d been storing up all these ideas and then we’re in the environment where suddenly we could do whatever we wanted. There was an amazing amount of freedom. They always wanted to create the most complex product but the funny thing is that the really easy pieces were what Stone Island would find most difficult.

Was there a sense at the time that you were doing something that would have a long-lasting impact? Was it bigger than just a job?

A: This work is incredible, it’s beautiful, but it’s a job at the end of the day. There’s a fantastic story about the actor Marcello Mastroianni. At Cannes, everyone would ask him to explain his work, what was the meaning behind it, what was his philosophy. He said, “I’m like a dentist, it’s just my work.”

P: No. For me it was just a wonderful job. I didn’t have a sense of what it would become. You can’t work like that because it then becomes very pretentious. Essentially it is just clothes, a lot of people take it too seriously.

There is definitely that layer of myth around what we did but I like to think that’s simply because we did a good job. People were really into it and they still are today; now they attach an awful lot of importance to it that maybe wasn’t there at the time. I went to an event in Glasgow about 3 years ago. There was a line of kids with Stone Island jackets asking me to sign them. They were really into it which was very touching and really sweet, but I did find it strange.

How did Ten c come about? What was the catalyst?

P: We started the brand in 2010. Alessandro had been trying out a fabric with C.P. Company and they were adamant that they couldn’t use it. They said it was too expensive and too complex to work with.

A: When I first touched that fabric, I realised that in your life as a designer, you will only come across 2, maybe 3 fabrics like this. I called Paul and said, “I need to talk to you now.” I showed him this incredible fabric, what we now call OJJ (Original Japanese Jersey); that was the beginning. For the first collection we produced everything in just two colours, a very dark blue and a military green. That was it. I still have that first jacket. It’s beautiful.

P: I was actually convinced that Ten c wasn’t going to work and I thought that if it didn’t, at least that meant I was right. When the first Ten c collection came out and people in the business saw it, they knew immediately what was going on, we didn’t have to explain it. The fact is, this fabric looks good no matter what you do with it – there are very few fabrics like that. The Stone Island Raso Gommato was similar, you just can’t get it wrong.

Take us through the ethos of the brand.

P: With Ten c, we wanted to make a jacket of such high quality that people would never throw it away. The brand came about at just the right time for me personally. A friend had just given me a book called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things, which was very important to me. It explains that what we’re doing now with recycling is wrong, because we’re recycling things that weren’t designed to be recycled. We have to design things to be recycled. If you design in the right way, design things properly, you can actually up-cycle rather than down-cycle. There’s a German company called Schüco, they’re the biggest producers of aluminium window frames in the world. However, they don’t sell their windows, they essentially hire them out, so when the homeowner is finished with them they just hand them back rather than putting them in the skip. Because of this, it works in the company’s interests to design the best quality frame possible, because it will always belong to them.

So around the time we started to think about Ten c, I was on that trip, thinking about all these ideas around the way we produce and consume. We decided that we wanted to make the best jacket possible to last a lifetime. If people understood the concept, great, if they don’t, that’s fine too.

We stepped out of the season model and instead picked iconic military silhouettes – a parka, a field jacket, styles that would always be in style. These are essentially pieces that men are comfortable with; an awful lot of menswear is like that; jeans and a white t-shirts. We acknowledge that this is the way men dress.

“There is definitely that layer of myth around what we did but I like to think that’s simply because we did a good job.”

 

The fabric is obviously a huge part of the Ten c story, can you tell us more about it?

P: Basically it’s a polyester jersey that can only be dyed at 130/140 degrees. Water boils at 100 degrees so in order to reach 130 degrees you have to use a giant pressure cooker. When you do that – the whole fibre opens, the colour goes inside the fibre, it cools, closes and the colour stays inside. You have to sew on the buttons and put in the elastic draw-cords at the end of the process because at those temperatures they will melt.

The other issue is, this starts life as a very lightweight jersey, so basically it’s a knitted fabric, which means that there is a shrinkage issue that varies from piece to piece. That means you have to carefully control every single piece of fabric. This process can really only be done in Italy, it’s so complex and has a whole series of problems.

How long does it take to make a single jacket?

P: It’s hard to say because they’re not made individually and do you count the time it takes to test and create the fabric or, just the jacket itself?

All the testing and cutting of the fabric happens in Italy. Right now they’re sewn just outside of Ancona and all the dyeing is done by Tintoria Emiliana – one of the best dye facilities in the world. They’re actually based down the road from us and we’ve worked with them for both C.P. Company and Stone Island.

A: They are in fact the only ones in Europe who can dye polyester.

P: They work with people like Comme des Garçons who send over clothing from Japan to be dyed; an indication of their skill.

This level of complexity helps to explain the Ten c price point.

P: The difficulty level of what we’re doing at Ten c is very high. There’s a lot of intricacy and risk involved and to be completely honest, we haven’t made any money out of it yet. This garment dye process is the only way you can get this depth of colour. That’s why the jackets are expensive. We have clients who just get it and have 6 or 7 jackets. It’s great to think that people understand it and while they continue to understand it we’ll continue to make it.

When objects are very special, when they’re really well made, they become part of you. This watch I’m wearing is 30 years old and I never take it off. These special things grow with you and that’s an essential part of Ten c. They actually get better with age and that’s unusual.

“The difficulty level of what we’re doing at Ten c is very high. There’s a lot of intricacy and risk involved and to be completely honest, we haven’t made any money out of it yet.”

 

“Original jackets, they’re just so special in their own way. There are only so many people you can sell them to and once they’ve bought one they’re going to keep it for a long time; that’s the whole point, that’s what we want.”

 

Seven years in, what are the current challenges with Ten c?

P: The hard part is creating something better than our core. Original jackets, they’re just so special in their own way. There are only so many people you can sell them to and once they’ve bought one they’re going to keep it for a long time; that’s the whole point, that’s what we want. So we have to open up to a whole new client and that’s the aim. We both understand that we have to move the brand forward. Ten c belongs to Alessandro and I, so the responsibility is on us to push it forward. The summer is always a challenge and we’re working on how we fill that rail in-store during the warmer months.

We’re now producing knitwear and for the latest collection we’ve used a garment dyed cotton nylon, which isn’t as complex as our original fabric, but it’s great. In terms of experimentation, there are a lot of other weird things we could be trying out with the label but that’s more suited to C.P. Company because it operates on a seasonal basis. Ten c is not about weird, it’s about quality, making things properly, it’s about being classic. It’s a different philosophy.

Ten c is a tricky business model in that sense.

P: Yes, it’s actually totally wrong from a business point of view. It might be different if we had a visible trademark on Ten c. It relies on the customer buying into it without any branding. There’s just a single label inside, all numbered consecutively, by hand. Outside we deliberately kept it logo free. So, of course you could do a Ten c logo t-shirt and people would want to buy into it because Ten c is desirable and t-shirts are an accessible product. If we wanted to simply make money that’s the way we’d go, but we’re very extremist about this brand so that isn’t something we’re willing to do right now.

Who is the Ten c customer?

P: We both wear Ten c and that’s not necessarily the case with other brands we’ve worked on. It’s very close to what my personal ideal jacket would be. We’re honestly not wearing these jackets deliberately or even consciously designing for ourselves; this is just for us, as good as it gets.

A: I think it’s close to perfect. I’ve been wearing this field jacket for seven years. The way the colour has changed, the way it’s worn in—perfect.

 

 

You both work on C.P. Company, Ten c and Baracuta simultaneously, is it easy to switch between the three?

P: The products are very different so switching from one to the other isn’t particularly difficult. Baracuta for example is very focused around Englishness. It’s a small line and it’s very strict which is good. We’re just moving into our third season with them, the brief is basically to get back to what Baracuta should be, clean and simple.

A: With C.P. the product is very different although the idea is the same, returning to its original core to what it should be.

What should it be? What exactly is C.P. Company?

P: We’re trying to add performance to the original C.P. Company recipe.

A: In a very modern way; so it’s a contemporary performance label. For C.P Company going forward, we have a set of prototypes in mind. They’re completely different – it’s a new age for the brand.

P: We recognise that the label has a very strong archive and that’s the DNA of C.P. Company, but that was 40 years ago, things have changed, things have moved on. We want to respect the tradition but push it forward. This whole performance thing is key, it’s an incredibly important part of men’s clothing now. The summer collection we’re working on for C.P Company is much more out there, it felt like the right time to take that step.

It seems as if everything you do across all your labels comes back to simplicity?

P: Well with Baracuta, the jacket is pretty much as it is, there’s not much you can do to such an iconic shape. However, talking in general, there’s something that designers can’t do and the first thing they’ll say is “yep, everything’s fine with that product, don’t touch it.” There’s something quite strange about that.

Overall, I think what Alessandro and I try and do with everything we work on is identify what’s wrong, take all that away and then find what’s right. That seems to have worked for us. Sometimes it’s just about re-establishing the basics of a brand. Putting down a firm foundation, consolidating what has been gained and then moving forward. You can’t take giant leaps with brands, it’s very dangerous, you can go too far forward and as a result, lose your customer.

You’re so familiar with these brands and with this industry in general, do you feel you have a solid understanding of how things work?

A: If I’m being honest, not really. There’s always something new to understand. For example, with C.P. Company, there’s this real interest from very young people, it’s become a very important brand to that generation. You now see someone like Stormzy wearing it and it sits next to brands like Palace, Supreme or adidas. That is a surprise to both of us.

P: It’s great but we’re amazed by all this interest. The thing is, you shouldn’t target that particular consumer because they actually don’t want to be targeted, they have their own very individual ideas. They wear a lot of the real vintage pieces too so even if you tried to create an archive collection for example, that’s not what they’re looking for; they either want to track down an original or they want something completely fresh. I think when you create an archive collection it sometimes sends out the message that you’ve run out of ideas.

A: We have the C.P. Company archive right here. If you try to remake these pieces they’ll never be the same.

How has menswear changed over the years?

P: The whole game has changed completely. When we were originally doing Stone Island and C.P. Company it was all about the product. Now it’s also very much about the story you tell, communicating with people. Look at Palace and Supreme – they’re so clever at that side of the business, they really understand marketing. I think storytelling is a really important element, it’s not something we do to a huge extent but when we do, it’s always a true story. It has to be real.

What’s the future for Ten c?

P: It would be great to have a standalone Ten c store with a specific Ten c environment. That would allow us to show all the jackets and liners separately in every colour and give the client the chance to customise their own piece, as was the original idea. We’ve designed them so every liner fits every jacket and you can swap them around. The idea of customising is becoming really important, we like the idea that people could have their own individual Ten c setup.

 

“Right from the beginning, I’ve always had certain rules that I’ve kept to – if someone’s done it, you shouldn’t, and don’t ever decorate clothing.”

 

What do you think about the boom in technical outerwear over the past few years considering that Stone Island and C.P. Company have been doing this for decades?

P: I’d say C.P. Company has a particularly strong history with technical clothing. The whole taping thing is something really connected to Alessandro. He did the classic C.P. Company nylon cotton in a GORE-TEX version a long time ago.

Yes. There is definitely a growing demand for outerwear that works. There’s this expectation now that if you buy a jacket it should at the very least keep you dry. That wasn’t always the case. The whole stretch concept is driving fabrics as well. For example, men’s trousers now have to have some stretch in them. Whether all this is completely necessary is a different matter but it’s definitely growing in importance. What Nike and adidas are doing is almost completely focused on performance; it needs to be lightweight, it needs to move with the body and all this results in a lot of new innovations, which can only be a good thing.

A: It’s the only way forward. This is the future.

What do you do when you hit a wall? How do you get over designer’s block?

A: There’s definitely a little bit of panic

P: If that does happen, it’s always at the last minute. Sometimes it can cause you to completely change direction.

A: Yes, we’ve definitely done that in the past and actually the end result turned out to be great. C.P. Company is a good example. Some years back, we were having one of those difficult days. It was just before the collection needed to be finished and Paul was sitting at this exact table with a bomber jacket in front of him. He had this plastic lens in his hand and was just playing about with it. Suddenly he randomly placed it on the sleeve pocket and it just worked. That became the C.P. Company branding. It was a turning point. It changed things completely.

P: With that one simple move C.P. Company became a bit more of a brand, for better or worse. Right now it seems to work. We’ll see.

Paul, I hear you’re a big fan of drag racing. Does it play into your work at all?

P: No, it’s just a hobby. I’ve always loved cars and driving in every form. The great thing with drag racing is that you can get really close to the cars, which you can’t with formula one any more. 2 cars racing together turn out 14,000 brake horsepower. To put that in context, a formula one car is about 700 brake horsepower. The ground literally shakes. It’s an amazing buzz, it’s a controlled explosion and you’re right in the middle of it.

What are the lessons you’ve learned over your career that have stuck?

P: Right from the beginning, I’ve always had certain rules that I’ve kept to – if someone’s done it, you shouldn’t, and don’t ever decorate clothing. Nothing has really changed over the years, my approach has always been the same and I’d say Alessandro and I share this way of thinking. Maybe one thing I’ve learned is not to get too consumed by the work. Saying that, if I was teaching a group of fashion students I’d probably tell them to do the opposite, to live and breathe it. Now, I just appreciate that there are certain things you just need to let go.

Shop Ten c FW17 

 

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