Some brands get it so right that when you think about them, a whole aesthetic comes to your mind immediately. COS is one of them, and it is not only recognizable for the look but also for the touch and feel of their textiles. Strongly connected to art, architecture, music, film, dance… most of the time it requires a certain sensibility to fully understand the minimal yet rich concept behind it. We had the chance to have a nice conversation in Madrid with COS Head of Menswear Design, Martin Andersson, who introduced us to the inside world of the brand from a very personal and unique perspective.
Quite a few successful fashion designers grew up in small villages, and this is your case too. How does this influence your style and the way you see fashion?
The fact that I lived in a small city was one of the reasons that got me interested in making clothes. I was a teenager in the late ‘80s and, back then, MTV was very big. I was interested in British bands and I loved what they were wearing, but I wanted to get the same thing I saw on MTV and, of course, I couldn’t because there was nowhere around me where I could buy it. My mum is very good at sewing, so I started designing, making little drawings of what I saw on MTV and then she would help sew it. That is how I actually started designing and making clothes. I think all that shaped me, but I don’t know if it made me look at fashion in a different way. At COS we have a Scandinavian design heritage, and growing up in Sweden makes you have this kind of idea that all good design should be functional – and actually that’s really the core of our design at COS.
You used to have your own fashion brand. Have you ever thought about restarting it and keep on working at COS at the same time?
No, and I’ll tell you why. As a young and independent designer, which I was back then, you have all these goals and a vision that you want to create, but there are always so many obstacles that you come up against and run out of resources like time, money, etc. So you start with a vision and when you get there, the vision has become very diluted making it challenging and frustrating. Working for COS, which has such a strong brand DNA and identity, everything we set up to do is sort of accomplished. Of course I am not saying it is easy, especially the challenge we have in delivering a great product at an affordable price. This means that we need to put a lot of time into research and development, but we have lots of resources and a great team, so I am very happy and fulfilled at COS.
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How do you blend the characteristic aesthetics of the brand with your creative view and also the commercial needs?
Many years ago, when I got the call to work at COS, I was actually wearing a pair of COS trousers. I was already a customer and loved the brand. It was definitely in line with my own aesthetic –which I think is very important when a designer works with a brand– and also this whole idea of what COS is and its values: functional, modern, design. The functionalism and modernism is the backbone of the good design, and that has always been very important to me. I have a personal interest in the feel of modernism and a great love for the Bauhaus. When I was a student at CSM I spent three months in Barcelona and discovered the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, and that changed my view on design fundamentally. Now I can use the Barcelona Pavilion as such a good example of what we find inspiring at COS and what we try to do. That building was designed in the 1920s and today still feels more modern than most contemporary structures. And that’s what I aim to do at COS – to give relevant, modern, inventive fashion that is going to last a while. We want people to be able to come and buy pieces that they can wear for the next three winters.
Sometimes to innovate, when one of the brand essences is minimalism, might be complicated. How do you reach your goals?
We work a lot with proportions at COS, even if it’s just a white shirt, maybe the collar is smaller or we drop the shoulder so it changes the silhouette, it’s all about the fine details. When we build the collection we want to do it how we think most people wardrobes look. We always start with a broad base of the wardrobe essentials: LBD, the navy blazer, the white shirt, the tunic shirt… all of those pieces that you want to wear every day, and from there we build up with a more seasonal concept, which might be a new wide silhouette, or the use of a new technique or a print. We love the iconic and classic, and how you can put a COS pin on it in a modern way. More than chasing the latest trend we always ask ourselves before designing a garment: is this COS? Does it feel like COS? Because we want people to instantly recognize something as COS. We spend a lot of time talking about the silhouette that we want, the proportions and the fabrics, and even when it is just cotton we might finish it differently. Whether it is treated to make it papery or mixed with silk.
How do you work with Karin Gustafsson, womenswear, to get both collections in harmony?
At the beginning of the season we work very closely, and what we do is we literally lock ourselves in a room for about a week. We bring to the table everything that inspires us, which is usually modern art, architecture, interior design… but it can be anything, can be music, a film, basically we bring lots of ideas that we’ve seen in the last six months. We show them to each other in mini presentations and from there we start combining things and building stories of different work techniques, colours and harmonies, fabric ideas… and almost in the space of a week we mock up the whole season. We do this all together to end up doing a big presentation for the designers and the pattern cutters so they take these ideas on board. It is so much about team work at COS, we have a really nice Swedish environment in where everyone’s voice is heard, we work together a lot and I think bouncing ideas around is how you get a strong collection.
“At COS, I aim to give relevant, modern, inventive fashion that is going to last a while.”
What do you think about getting closer and closer to not have a gender difference in the collections?
We talk a lot about this at COS, and I think it’s a wonderful thing – it is so nice to see how it’s happening not just in fashion circles. We also have talked about to do a unisex collection and then realize that we don’t need to, because we already have a customer that comes in and buys in both, male and female. There are, specifically, so many male customers that buy the big oversize coats in women wear, women come and buy knitwear and shirts from the male department, so we don’t need it because it’s already there.
What are your challenges while designing for men?
I think with men in particular they sort of know what they want, especially when it comes to fit and quality, they are very picky so you have to get it 100% right. It’s a very demanding customer, but that’s what I really like. It’s all about the little details, getting the fit absolutely right and finding the balance between something that feels new and relevant but also quite easy and effortless, which I think is key for guys.
What will we be seeing next season in COS shelves?
This winter we’ve look a lot at this artist called Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and it really resulted into looking at furniture fabric for inspiration. It’s a very rich and textured collection, lots of hairy textures in knitwear but also, for both men and women, we thought in a kind of soft collapsing silhouette: soft long coats, trousers with lots of volume... It’s almost like a little bit decadent, in COS maybe you don’t think of COS as decadent, but I think that the richness in the fabrication together with the richness in the colours and then this new sort of soft silhouette, makes it modern, updated, rich and decadent.
We also see so many new young artists that are creating and designing thinking of the future. That makes us think what would be the next step in fashion, especially with fabrication; how are we going to move forward. There are some new technical solutions for fabrics and it’s very interesting when you mix a technical yarn with a natural yarn. We have worked with reflective materials because we got into something utilitarian, sort of like protective gear, with reflective vests, bags. So it is going to be very interesting, and that is going to be a nice contrast to the more decadent and richer side.
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