Interview by Enrico Grigoletti
Images courtesy of Enrico Grigoletti / Henri Lloyd / Zone7Style
Re-invention — a very modern form of creation. Arguably all of Oi Polloi's favourite clothing designers could be described as arch-appropriators. The output of menswear luminaries like Massimo Osti, Ralph Lauren and Daiki Suzuki couldn't be confused as anything other than their own, singular and distinguishable. However, their work often involves elements of ideas taken from elsewhere. The artistry comes in re-imagining them. Talent borrows, genius steals.
When Olmes Carretti launched his Best Company brand in 1982 he reconsidered classic sportswear items, creating a startling juxtaposition of American iconography and Italian design sensibilities. An expressive use of colour, print and pattern, coupled with superior Italian manufacturing, were Best Company trademarks.
Carretti's distinctive approach caught the eye of Manchester based sailing brand Henri Lloyd, who hired him to work on the re-launch of their Consort jacket. Under Carretti's direction Best Company and Henri Lloyd became must-have brands amongst the dapper youths populating Milan's streets, the 'paninaro', and went on to become popular with England's style-conscious counterparts.
In commemoration of their 50th anniversary, Henri Lloyd have again teamed up with Olmes Carreti. The Consort is perhaps Henri Lloyd's definitive jacket, and Carretti has given it a significant redesign. In anticipation of the jackets arriving, we asked Enrico Grigoletti to meet with Olmes at his studio in Reggio Emilia, to discuss his past work and the renewed collaboration with Henri Lloyd.
EG: Can we begin by discussing your early career, how you came to be involved in clothing design?
OC: Well, the first item of significance was probably the sweatshirt. As humble an item as it may seem, I always saw great potential in it. During my time spent working on Best Company I got chance to explore these ideas fully, but everything started with a brand called St. Moritz. That didn't really work out, for one reason or another, but soon after a small knitwear firm asked me to come on board and continue what I was doing at St. Moritz, the outcome of this was the By American Windsurf Club sweatshirt.
EG: So Best Company was a progression of these projects, how did that come about?
OC: After my adventure with By American, Mr Saltini, one of the many By American suppliers, got in touch and asked me to develop a brand for him. It was 1982 and Best Company was born. The first two seasons were slow, but within time it grew to be a huge success and we were able to create some great products. It all came to an end when Mr Santini was forced to sell the company. The new owners never really understood Best Company, in terms of creative direction. They moved the production outside Italy, they changed our process and they changed my team, so I decided to leave. Unfortunately it folded not long afterwards. Every week I receive emails asking me about Best Company, whether or not I'd relaunch the brand. It's not possible at the moment — but I'd love to do it.
EG: It certainly feels like the bright patterns and motifs Best Company sportswear was known for would be relevant today, there's definitely more playful and outlandish elements appearing in menswear collections. For me, references to the natural world and a vivid use of colour were always two defining elements of the brand. Could you talk a little about this?
OC: Well, the logo I choose for Best Company was a pine tree… I guess that speaks for itself. I've always been inspired by the natural world. I like to think we did the right thing in giving something back — Best Company would sponsor 'green' events and support ecological causes. It wasn't as common for companies to have these kind of sensibilities in 1982! The colour palettes used in my work were also inspired by nature, by traveling, experiencing different cultures and sensations. Colour is always my starting point. For the redesign of the Henri Lloyd Consort jacket I defined 16 colours, using special tinctures which I have personally tested and approved, in the light of the desert, during one of my trips to the land of hand-knotted carpets!
EG: Inventive use of colour is definitely something people associate with your designs. I guess the other main association is the paninaro look. Best Company sportswear and the Consort RWR jackets you did for Henri Lloyd in eighties were both quintessential items in that movement, how did you come to be affiliated with the whole paninaro subculture?
OC: I’m saying this for the first time, but I swear it’s the truth: I never considered the paninaro when I was working on my designs. I wasn't part of that scene. If I'm honest; I wasn’t very happy about what was going on in Piazza San Babila in Milan, and my association with it… they were wild boys! I was coming from a totally different background, having grown up in rural surroundings and then spending time traveling… England, Nepal, the States. The paninari were a very city-centric, Milanese set. Somehow they came to adopt Best Company as a symbol of their lifestyle, but I never really took inspiration from them.
EG: It's funny how clothing is appropriated unexpectedly sometimes. How did everything get started with Henri Lloyd?
OC: The first Consort jacket was created in 1965 by Angus Lloyd and Henry Strzelecki for Francis Chichester, the first person to sail single-handed around the world. In 1984 Henri Lloyd contacted me and asked me to create a new version of the jacket, the Consort Round the World Race jacket or RWR. At this point Henri Lloyd was really only popular amongst sailors, who relied on the technical specifications of its products. You could say my reinterpretations helped the brand 'go ashore'.
EG: And now, almost 50 years after it was first designed, we're seeing the return of the Consort. You must be pleased the jacket has remained relevant for such a long time, allowing you the opportunity to work on it again?
OC: Absolutely! It was an honour for me to be able to revisit such a classic item, a great opportunity. The Consort was a very original product, ahead of it's time. When approaching the re-design I've tried to stay true to the original, to its flavour and essence. You can't forget the origins of a garment like this.
OC: The biggest difference is the fit and shape, we completely reworked it, creating a shorter and slimmer silhouette, a more contemporary cut. Overall I'd say it feels smarter. It's still a technical jacket that can be worn in a sporty way — but also looks great with a formal blazer. The detailing has also changed, we adjusted some technical elements, adding a triple front fastening (the original only has a double layer), plus all seams have been thermo-sealed. The front buttons have been changed, we've used naval-style buttons, similar to those found on a pea-coat. Then of course there are the new colours I mentioned previously. Whilst respecting the original design, this is far from a nostalgic replica, it's been moved along significantly. I'm very pleased with the results.
EG: Olmes, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.
OC: Thank you too… Let's have lunch, ravioli and erbazzone!