Interview with 12thMan designer Fabio Cavina

Keith Wildman talks Paninaros, Massimo Osti, casuals and Teddy Boys over an espresso with Fabio Cavina, the man behind new Italian label 12thMan
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If you're a regular reader of Sabotage Times, then you'll know I'm a big fan of new Italian label 12thMan. I was fortunate enough to have a chat with founder Fabio Cavina - a man with a passion for Italian clothing and style, particularly the work of the legendary Massio Osti - about his influences and his hopes for his label, one which I expect to take off in 2011.

I started by asking him how he came up with the name.

Fabio Cavina: The name starts from a strong connection with football which really influenced the first t-shirts I printed three years ago, then I developed a different concept but the name stayed.

Keith Wildman: So what was the idea behind 12thMan?

I started 12thMan a few seasons ago. I always liked design and clothing, plus being born and bred here in Bologna, I received a lot of influence from a few well known brands and designers, without wanting to make comparisons. I started my project from scratch, I mean I didn't have any connection with the fashion industry through family or friends. I was a teenager in the 80s and I lived the Paninaro era over here which was all about brands and looking cool and  strangely enough, as collector of Massimo Osti's brands, I got in touch with a lot of lads from the UK.

K:  Really? In what way?

F: Through forums mainly. I actually learned much from UK based collectors about stuff that was made designed and made over here. (laughs)

K: Were you aware how popular Massimo Osti's work was in the UK?

F: Not really. I think I remembered the name from the 80s, but Stone Island was famous back then, not Osti. I actually thought Stone Island was gone after the 80s till I bought a nice jumper in a shop about 10 years ago and then learned the whole story behind it.

K: The Paninaro thing was popular in the UK, and probably started the fascination with Stone Island and CP here.

F: Which is actually a bit weird to me as I know quite a few of the casual lads make reference to that, but if I got that right casual is a way of life, more like a culture with music, movies and so on. A life style right? Paninaro was also something like that but there was not a real culture with it, just trying to look good to pick up girls. (laughs) The music was about Duran Duran and The Pet Shop Boys mainly, and also, no connection with football whatsoever.


K: 'Casual' is just one name that's stuck really, it's used all the time now but I'm not sure many people actually called themselves that at the time. I'd say it was more like Paninaro, just about looking good. Not everyone who liked dressing well and going to the football wanted a fight or was even into the same music or any music at all!

F: I see, I thought the Casuals were like heirs to the Mods or something like that...

K: Well, yes, people argue that. And of course Mods were again inspired by what was happening in Italy. The scooters, the sharp suits...

F: That is funny in a way. I guess you took it and added a British twist to it, except we had Teddy Boys in the 50s riding Vespas and Lambrettas and always making trouble. Though I wasn't around then!

K: Has there been any British fashion or style that's made the return journey and been an influence in Italy?

F: It is hard to say, as now you have people going to the football wearing Stone Island because of the UK, in the same way they like Belstaff, but it is a very small niche of 'clued-up' people. As I said not many people know about Massimo Osti and even fewer know about fashion in the UK I'm afraid.

K: Stone Island has grown from something you'd see a handful of people in to a mainstream label in the UK. Mostly over the last decade. So how did you get into Massimo Osti and was he your main influence?

F: I was really impressed by all these British people collecting his stuff and knowing so much about him, and he was from here and that added to the fascination, so that is how I fell in love with his work. As I said I don't want to make stupid comparisons, but I would say, with all due respect, that yes he has been and is the main influence for what I am doing. I mean, in his approach on how to do things. I believe he never looked for short cuts in his work, and had a real passion for his work .

K: And you collect his pieces too?

F: I used to collect more in the past, now I collect only things that I wear so it is harder as most of his best things were from the 80s when the shape/cut of jackets was really different from now - with a huge chest and short sleeves - still I have a good collection of around 120 pieces I think.

K: What's your favourite piece?

F: My favourite piece is one I don't own, typical!  It's a late 80s Camo Ice Jacket with a red woollen linen. I have recently seen one of these brand new and it was so good.

K: How aware do you think Osti was about the football connection in the UK? Did that have any influence on him?

F: From what I know he knew about that but I think it was more the other way around, the football lads were buyng SI or CP jackets as they were warm, functional with loads of pockets plus they looked great. I think he was asked once about that and he said: "If the hooligans are buying my jackets it means they have good taste!" (laughs)


K: You recently collaborated with Massimo Osti studio with the MO1/Project, how did that come about?

F:  I got in touch with them as I really wanted to visit their archive and they were very nice and let me do that, then we got into talking and decided we would do something together. It was very informal. Lorenzo and Agata are very nice people I must add. The Archive was great to visit, not only for the jackets but also for all the sketches, personal belongings and so on.

K: Did anything stand out in the archive that you'd not seen before?

F: A few things yes, some prototypes... but the best pieces were still Ice Jackets and Marina Reflectives from the 80s in brand new condition.

K: Are you pleased with the way your collaboration with them has been received?

F: I think people understood it was not a commercial gimmick but an humble tribute we wanted to do, so I would say yes!

K: So how did you go from clothing enthusiast to where you are now?

F: Day by day, making a lot of mistakes, but always doing small things with great passion. Plus I am very lucky as I live in a land with a great tradition for clothing, where you can actually work with very experienced people.

K: The ethos behind 12thMan seems to be limited numbers, handmade and high quality. Is that what you set out to do?

F: Actually yes, you're right Keith, these are my driving principles. I want to make nice garments in Italy. I believe that as an Italian brand I should do everything in Italy. It's sad to see Italian or British brands making everything in the Far East. At least it is for me. I know a lot of people don't really care about that but I do. It's a sign of the times, the fact is that prices are still very high even if it is made in China.

It's sad to see Italian or British brands making everything in the Far East. At least it is for me. I know a lot of people don't really care about that but I do. It's a sign of the times, the fact is that prices are still very high even if it is made in China.

K: What is it in Italian culture that drives this fascination for style do you think?

F: I think it is a lifestyle thing, just like wine and food, it is in our blood somewhere, although some of the worst dressed people are in Italy, I mean it is not that everybody has a great taste for clothing, but some people do and they will look great no matter what they wear.

K: What's popular in Italy right now? In the UK the hiking/mountaineering look seems to be big at the moment.

F: In Italy it is a bit the same, hiking boots are quite popular now, although most people still wear  Timberland boots in winter - a reminder from the 80s and the Paninaro thing. Jacketwise it is more a city style thing, with technical looking jackets.

K: Which designers do you admire at the moment?

F: Not many to be honest, although there a few I really like. Nigel Cabourn being one of them. I really like his approach, which really reminds me of Massimo Osti. A friend is now designing for CP company and I expect good things from him as well.

K: Cabourn's stuff is really good. I always think the best style comes from practicality. Rather than just style for style's sake. I like design details to be there for a reason rather than just decoration.

F: That was the ethos behind Massimo's work too.

K: So what can we look out for with 12thMan in the future? Are you happy to carry on as you are or do you see a shift to larger production?

F: The 12thMan range is being expanded and soon garments such as sweatshirts and light jackets will be introduced. Pieces will still be very limited in numbers, although shifting to a larger scale will be necessary soon if you want to keep making everything in Italy.  With a steady growth and a growing interest from shops and blogs, everything is looking good.

Visit the 12thMan website here and blog here


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