Interview: Massimo Rossetti, a sportswear guru
Massimo Rossetti speaks about his love for authentic sportswear, his latest project ‘Parajumpers’ and his goal to design masterpieces.
TW: Mr. Rossetti, have you always been crazy about sportswear?
I discovered my love for sportswear when I was 18 years old, thanks to the American films my grandfather used to take me to see. That was when I saw college-style jackets for the first time. I thought they were fantastic. They had wide shoulders and a narrow waist; those jackets looked great on me. And this helped me make it with the girls.
In those years, it must have been difficult to find that kind of jacket in Torino, or am I wrong?
In the so-called American markets in Livorno and Nice, you could find them. My first important jacket, in any case, wasn’t American, it was British. A Baracuta. Fantastic! I still consider it a masterpiece today, maybe the best jacket ever made.
How were you able to get it?
I made some money as a tennis coach and ski instructor and I also worked as a guard in an art expert’s gallery. An art merchant often travelled to the United States and, sometimes, he would bring me a gift. My first 501s, my first Baracuta…that’s when I started to develop my crazy passion for what we call sportswear today.
At that time, this category didn’t exist yet, right?
Even today, I can’t stand the term. But that’s how it started because there’s a need to label everything. I worked in a bank for six years, but I always practiced many sports at a very high level. Extreme skiing, tennis, sailing…in this way, my taste automatically patterned after functionality and comfort. Then, designers came along and applied the sportswear label, copying left and right—but I’m not talking about copying individual models—they copied an entire culture. From that moment on, sportswear became a cult, or more to the point, a day-to-day thing.
And so that’s how the triumph of sportswear began?
Sportswear became commerce. There’s not a romantic reason behind why sportswear proved successful. It was a good idea and it sold well. Perhaps it was born from the need to give oneself an image. Now sportswear is of a high level but, at one time, it was a movement created in the lower spheres. When I was young, actors wore jackets and ties; they didn’t even know what sportswear was. When James Dean wore a red boy-scout jacket, for us, he was already a legend. Now Joe-Schmoe comes along, designs something and everyone follows him as if they were sheep.
What does this mean for your work as a stylist?
It’s very, very difficult. Everything has already been discovered, done and copied at least three times. Now, certain people crop up and decide that the 80s are back and – tah-dah, here we go again with the 80s and the whole world copies it. Okay, with slight changes, but in the end, we’re talking about copies of copies that someone else has already copied. But it’s likely that no one really wants to be aware of this.
Currently, it seems like you don’t like the sector too much.
It’s a disaster. There’s no culture. Especially in the sportswear sector, culture is missing. It should base itself on a culture. My whole archive is full of masterpieces that inspire me. But I can’t simply copy them.
What does sportswear need in order to be good?
It has to start from a good foundation, from masterpieces, and it needs to have a good idea behind it. Like Parajmpers; they represent the history of the United States and are inspired by rescue efforts and solidarity. From a fashion point of view, the lateral cargo pocket completely changes the esthetics of the jacket. Without one, it could be a military jacket, but, in the end, it isn’t.
Does everyone have to like it as well?
If you have to create something that everyone likes, you’re a goner. Unfortunately, today, there are very few one-of-a-kind pieces. At one time, people tried to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Today, we prefer to blend in with the crowd. People feel better being part of the crowd. There are no more idols. In Italy, this is a particularly serious issue.
Is this why Parajumpers have had more success in Germany?
We gave people a product to distinguish themselves from the crowd, one that’s very visible. Italians, however, wish to be part of the crowd and try to conform. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my country and my people. Having contact with a single Italian is a wonderful thing, if there are two Italians, it becomes more difficult, if there are three, you have to escape.
And the Germans?
I find the German people very elegant.
Italians, who absolutely need to wear Hogan shoes because everyone else is doing it, are not more elegant than the Germans. A German person knows how to choose. They are not sheep. They want to distinguish themselves from the crowd. For this reason, Parajumpers have enjoyed great success in Germany. And this is true, even if we’ve only been on the market for three years.
So these days, is it necessary to create a total look and design a lifestyle?
Lifestyle, lifestyle. It’s frightening. What does that mean? On a personal level, fortunately, I have a lifestyle. But I can’t sell it. It’s a way of living. It’s ridiculous to call a product ‘lifestyle’. It makes you want to shot yourself in the foot. We sell ideas. It’s also possible to say things that way. For me, it’s enough to make three jackets, if they are masterpieces. And we’re capable of doing it.
What does sportswear still have to do with sports?
Down jackets were an authentic example of sportswear. Today, no one uses them to go skiing. Now, people use them to go into the city and act cool. I think that sportswear should be used at the right time. Today, our rules have become too lax. If you attend an official ceremony you should wear a tie, like at La Scala.
So, no sportswear at La Scala? When’s the right time then?
In any case, I would call everything ‘fashion for free time’. Sportswear would be fine for school…they’re unbearable—all of those belly-buttons and stomachs you see, when you pass in front of a school. Sportswear would be great for use after work. But why should one wear it during work hours as well? You don’t go skiing or to play tennis during work hours. For me, it doesn’t belong there. There’s no logical reason for it. Sportswear should be worn in a logical context, not necessarily while doing sports, but during moments of free time. It’s a free style of clothes. At work you’re not free.
Is this what generated sportswear’s great success? The essence of freedom?
It would be even better to say the ‘essence of free time’. In our society and in our lives, free time has continued to gain importance. For this reason, the success of sportswear will go on forever. There are formal clothes that we need for going to work. Then, there are clothes inspired by sportswear that can be combined with formal wear. Then, there’s authentic sportswear: that’s us—those who orient themselves toward free time. At this point, some people even want to wear it to work, so that they can always feel the essence of summer and free time. But in the end, it’s always a question of trying to impress the girls…dressing in a way that will make people look at you. Let me tell you, these are all conclusions of an old fox.
And that’s not going to change direction?
And go where? Should we not have free time anymore? Should we not try to make it with the girls?
Interview conducted by: SABINE FIEDLER
A sportswear guru
Massimo Rossetti is one of the masters of the Italian sportswear sector. He made his co-nationals aware of labels like Woolrich, Avirex and Timberland. He managed ‘Museum’, an Italian cult shop, designing ‘at least 600’ sportswear collections for Valentino, Ferré, Allegri, Hogan, Benetton and many others. His latest project is called Parajumpers. The number of his clients increases every year by approximately 20%. This collection is produced by a family-run company Ape & Partners in Seguisino. Germany generates 20% of Parajumpers’ turnover and has become its most important sales market. With TW, Rossetti spoke about the origins of sportswear as well as its past and the future and about what truly counts in this genre style: girls and the essence of free time.