The electrically avant-garde fashion brand Ottolinger was founded in 2016 by Swiss designers Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient. Now based in Berlin, the directional label is beloved for its charged silhouettes that balance radical deconstruction and immaculate tailoring. Fabric is burned and slashed, seams exposed, edges raw – yet all precisely harnessed in their sumptuous forms, each collection pushing towards a singular newness, and haloing their wearers with confidence.
– Text by Calla Henkell
What exactly does a creative director do?
Map out and find solutions – ideally, inventing a new way forward.
Why did you decide to work in fashion?
The power to communicate in an immediate way and the possibility of shape-shifting. Clothes are the first thing you notice when we meet someone (next to hair, makeup, etc) – it’s interesting how powerfully you can shift the reaction of the vis-a-vis depending on what you wear – but, in the end, it’s still the same person. Besides offering warmth and protection, it’s kind of mind-tricking tool of expression, storytelling, and resistance.
What do you remember about your earliest glimpse of glamor?
Cosima: My aunt’s long, red-painted nails and perfectly matched jewellery. She always looked so fabulous and had this glamorous aura. It made me so inpatient to grow up, so I could be like her.
What designers do you consider timeless, or whose influence will never fade?
It depends on what we understand as timeless. There is no such thing as a timeless style, because every design is ultimately a reflection of its time. Even a black turtleneck has the fit (length, finishing, etc) of its time. The same goes for something like the waist height of a pair of pants, even though classic denim pants are presently considered timeless. But there were definitely moments and garments in history when things were less extreme, which is why they are perceived as timeless.
What are the upsides of going corporate?
Is going corporate just being part of a big group, or making more commercial clothes and selling more, or something else? We imagine that the whole business side would be taken care of, like all the financial parts and logistics, which amounts to more security for the creatives – there will be fewer moments with €0.00 on the bank account. A team can also compare how other brands are performing, has more experts to give advice, etc. In short: You are not alone.
How can you stay independent as a label?
By selling enough clothes to fund the business, and by believing in our vision and just going for it, without looking left and right all the time.
Can anything still shock or surprise you in fashion design?
Hopefully, yes. It’s important for us to still believe that there are always new and different ways, as surprise is kind of the essence of a show. Being in the moment, it might feel that everything is explored and there is no space for newness – but then, once someone shows something surprising, it feels new, and somehow also so obvious that there is still room for novelty and possibility.
Do you wear your own clothes?
Absolutely! It can be quite funny sometimes, especially when we go through security control at the airport wearing our clothes, as the clothes have so many strings and straps hanging around – the scanner is always irritated, and the staff make funny comments.
Where wouldn't you wear your own clothes?
For climbing Mount Everest or any other very high mountains, it’s better to use proper gear from a specialized brand, and not one of Ottolinger’s very fashionable down jackets. Growing up in the Swiss Alps, our families would be pretty surprised if we showed up with Ottolinger gear on a hiking trip, even though, for a light hike, the Puma x Ottolinger pants and tops would work. We’d get sh*t from the family and other hikers, but it would do.
It can be very fashionable to dress all in expensive clothes and still have no style whatsoever.
What part of the body are you most attracted to, and how do you design to accentuate it?
We try to take a holistic approach when it comes to designing, and ideally, the entire person looks better in our clothes than before. It’s more about a feeling, that the clothes are making the person wearing them more self-confident, which is the feeling that’s always underneath looking good. Of course, we also check that the proportions are more flattering in our clothes – we like to make the legs longer, etc.
What is the difference between fashion and style?
Fashion happens within an industry, and often, according to a certain budget, whereas style can be found anywhere. Style is more about the feel someone has for clothes, to combine them in an interesting way. It can be very fashionable to dress all in expensive clothes and still have no style whatsoever.
How do you work together as a collective?
Working as a collective is like a love story or being in a relationship. It’s a constant exchange of fantasies and fights. It’s constantly the feeling of furnishing a flat together with a partner – one person likes this chair, one person the opposite table, and once both like the same, it works out. Also, it’s a very honest way to work together, as we are both in the same boat and want to achieve the same thing (thank god!). We always know that the other person is being honest and not saying they like something in order to please.
What kinds of stories do you try to tell with your collections, or from one collection to the next?
Looking back, in a meta way, it looks a lot like we have been telling the story of an independent label that had no idea what they were getting into, took some time to grow up, and eventually realized what it stands for, as a real business for real costumes with real dreams.
Photos: Isidore Montag / Gorunway.com
Which piece that you designed is your most successful?
PANTS – they are are often the first thing we develop when working on a collection. We have the oversized signature wrap pants, which are loose-fitting and with a looped, double-wrap waistband that makes them look very flattering on everyone. It’s the garment airport control always comments on.
A/W or S/S and why?
Definitely Spring/Summer. We love winter, the cold, clear weather, the snow, the skiing, the mountains; but somehow, as a collection, summer is always easier, more playful, and more fun for us. Where summer offers freedom, winter has to be more practical.
What do you think that artists wear?
It’s interesting you ask this – there is this book by the British fashion journalist Charlie Porter, What Artists Wear (2021), about the iconic outfits worn by artists in the studio, onstage, while working, at home, etc., like Andy Warhol’s signature denim, Georgia O’Keefe’s tailoring, David Hockney’s color-blocking, and Joseph Beuys’s felt items. As in any profession, there must be different groups with different styles. Ideally, though, they would all wear Ottolinger.
What do you recommend that we wear at an art magazine?
Photo: Peter Lindbergh Foundation