Rank and file: military wear lives to fight another day for Andrea Rosso
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Fragments of military design are everywhere. The bomber jacket became standard issue for the US Air Corps in 1931, long before it was a basic item in men’s wardrobes. The peacoat was made popular by the Dutch navy more than three centuries ago and cargo pants were reportedly first worn in the late 1930s by British military personnel. Epaulettes, deep pockets, khaki green, distressed heavy-weight cottons, parka jackets – all borne of the battlefield.
In the mid-1990s, iconoclasts such as Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela favoured utilitarian, military details for their collections and army surplus became a streetwear favourite. Andrea Rosso bought and wore second-hand army clothes in the 1990s too. But unlike the rest of us – and as the son of Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel and the OTB Group (which today includes labels such as Maison Margiela, Marni and Viktor&Rolf ) – his interest went a little deeper.
This rare Swiss Army blue wool coat dates from the 1950s
Andrea has served as creative director for Diesel’s licences since 2014: ‘Working at Diesel I have become passionate about clothing, and experimentation. I come from a very technical school – I don’t come from design,’ he says. ‘I don’t actually know how to design or draw, but I like the production and technical aspects of how things work. It is in my blood.’
In 1994, Andrea founded 55DSL – the spunkier, younger brother to his father’s casualwear titan (he is also behind the brand’s interiors offshoot). Today he’s working on a line of restyled vintage military clothes produced under the name Myar (an anagram of ‘army’, as well as the initials of its amiable founder) – a personal project he began in 2015, away from the glare and big-gear machinations of the family business: ‘I grew up inside Diesel,’ he says. ‘A big company has completely different needs compared to a small start-up. I like the fact that I took my own decisions on things. When you have nothing, it’s so beautiful to create something.’
Plenty of design innovation has come from the military. Even the mobile phone network we rely on so heavily was designed for secure and reliable communication across battlefields. ‘In terms of clothing, functionality is very important,’ Andrea says. ‘The anatomy of the body has been studied very well and of course the geographical location of where the clothes will be used is examined too.’ His first experience of these clothes came aged 16 on a research trip with the then creative director of Diesel. Travelling as widely as Montreal and LA, New York and Tokyo opened his eyes to a new way of buying.
Myar takes original pieces and gives them a new utility. His team browse second-hand warehouses, mainly in England, the USA and Italy, where they can often find hundreds of the same style in one place. Despite the dealers with their organised rails trying to second-guess what Rosso might be looking for, his eye is always drawn to the piles on the floor.
‘I am very curious. If there is a pile of a hundred pieces, I like to look at the one behind it because maybe there is something else.’ The studio studies every garment, either updating the proportions for the Originale line or using dead-stock fabric to make street-smart ready-to-wear under the Collezione label, which launched this year. uniform, Rosso says, has its own silhouette, its own je ne sais quoi. ‘In terms of a sartorial look, the English uniforms are the best. They’ve been studied very well in terms of construction,’ he says. ‘I like the English cut.’ Its more tailored approach might very well appeal to his Italian sprezzatura. ‘I’m not against the “future look”, but somehow I always find the most beautiful things are from the past. Like what my grandmother used to stitch, or the mistakes on clothing made by hand.’
That irregularity between one piece and another is the opposite of the perfectly mass-made, industrial production with which Rosso is so familiar. ‘There are lots of military clothes just sitting in warehouses totally unused, but there is a beauty to the design, despite the negative connotations. I like to bring this beauty out again by having people wear it on the streets,’ he says. ‘This is a modern way to see classic.’
As originally featured in the September 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*222)