Have you ever wondered how would food look like if turned into garments? Of course, I’m not talking about funnily ridiculous banana or hot dog-shaped onesies for hen and bachelor parties, but about real, durable, well-thought-out clothes. Well, wonder no more: Anais Marti and Ugo Pecoraio have you covered. The duo founded their fashion brand Collective Swallow to link edibles to fashion. And this unique, conceptual and experimental approach is a feast for the eyes.
“With the gustatory perception, we found a concept that suits both of our personalities”, says Ugo in this interview. “Every garment we create represents a dish, it’s named after the dish, and comes with a recipe. All our packings and care labels are inspired by the food industry and support the story behind the collection”, he continues. As you must have noticed, the designer duo, who split their work between Basel and Berlin, isn’t your average creative couple.

But it’s not only this deliciously risky side to them that has conquered our hearts. Their latest collection, named Metzgete after the homonymous traditional Swiss dish, was presented last week during ModeSuisse and also got our attention. Firstly, because it presented great pieces like an extra-voluminous trench or revamped cargo pants with asymmetrical pockets. And secondly, because of the presentation itself, since Anais and Ugo don’t believe in the fashion calendar. But, as they admit, “the schedule is not flexible yet and buyers buy seasonally”.

Despite this, they’re still rebellious. “We subvert by creating durable design and not naming our collections after season”, says Ugo. “We transform gustatory perceptions into something visual, following our own system”, continues Anais. So don’t expect prints of spaghetti, French fries, or sushi on the clothing; instead, focus on more conceptual ideas like personal memories linked to these dishes or how to translate sweetness or sourness into volumes, fabrics, and textures. Fashion dinner is served, and we’re ready for it.
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Anais, Ugo, before we get into your brand, I’d like to know more about you. How and when did you two meet?
We met in 2012 at the Institute of Fashion Design FHNW in Basel (Switzerland) during Anaïs’ thesis –she was working with latex. At that time, we were both working with this material for the first time and started to learn how to handle it together. We became friends and, soon after, the idea of our own project started to grow. After Ugo’s graduation two years later, we founded Collective Swallow over a great homemade pasta dinner.
Your approach to design is very unique, unusual even. Would you say your academic studies at FHNW were a starting point for your experimental practice? Or was it more restricting and you have broken free after graduating?
Anais: The University in Basel is really focusing on experimental design methods. For me, coming from an artisanal tailor apprenticeship, this was liberating and challenging at the same time. Nevertheless, I think you have to break free after graduation and find your own way. To me, working for other designers and observing different personalities and methods was very important in this process. I have always enjoyed conceptual working. With Collective Swallow, we built a conceptual structure to our experimental and very personal design practice.
Ugo: I come from a background of graphic design and had no idea of constructing garments. It was a blessing for me that I could express myself in my own way and experiment with different design methods at FHNW Basel. To me, creating is still a very personal and experimental act. I think for us as a team it’s important to find a common practice. With the gustatory perception, we found a concept that suits both of our personalities.
You’re based between Basel and Berlin. How would you say both cities inspire you (both personally and professionally), and how do you manage working separately?
Ugo: After the first collection, which we created together in our Berlin studio, we split up – I decided to focus on another project. That was the point where Anais decided to move back to Switzerland to continue with Collective Swallow.
Anais: Mostly for practical reasons, for a project like this you need to be close to old friends and have a strong network. Working separately from different cities became possible because we divided the tasks. I became Creative Director, took care of the design and production process, while Ugo took care of our PR and did artworks for the collections. Berlin is a great city with endless possibilities where you can find everything. But to me, not very inspiring, rather distracting. Basel is very comfortable and cute, a perfect home base. Since we travel a lot for work, it is a good place to return to.
Ugo: Berlin is a fun city where you are completely free to express yourself. But also, it is very hard to make a living. Basel is my safe place – where my roots are. But we both don’t take our inspiration from a special city but more from people, life itself and food.
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Collective Swallow is a curious name. How did you come up with it? Any interesting story behind it?
Anais: The brand name is connected to our concept of connecting edibles and fashion. Making clothes is sensuous, as well as gustatory sensations. With our designs, we want to address all senses –we include the sense of taste by basing our concepts on it.
Ugo: We like the differential meaning of the word ‘swallow’. On one side, it’s a slightly objectionable verb, and on the other, an innocent bird.
As you yourselves describe in your website, the brand is “dedicated to gastronomic fashion, taking edibles a step forward by basing their designs on the visual and sensory experience of food”. But how did you first come up with the idea? Was there a particular food/ingredient that sparked your interest?
Anais: The concept really started with the name ‘swallow’. For our first collection, we worked with the gustatory perception itself. We transformed sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami into volumes and textile techniques. We translated the feeling from our tongue into the garments. The garments each represented a dish, which we split up into the gustatory perceptions and translated into fabric and volume.
For example, ceviche, which is a very sour- and umami-tasting dish with a hint of sweetness, we transformed into a latex dress made from round-shaped patchwork with frills. Our approach has always been very individual, since it is based on the perception of taste, which is deeply connected to personal memories.
Ugo: It all started with the basic taste perceptions and now evolved into a more complex concept. Every garment we create represents a dish, it’s named after the dish, and comes with a recipe. All our packings and care labels are inspired by the food industry and support the story behind the collection.
In a previous interview, you said that you “combine food and fashion, and transform the taste and smell of a dish into fabrics and volumes to wear”. Could you please guide us through your creative process? Because it takes a lot of capacity of abstraction and conceptualization.
Anais: We transform the taste of a dish into garments through fabric surfaces, colours, volume, pockets, topstitching, and whatever we feel represents that specific taste best. But we also use other factors, like the optics – the colour, the texture (is it oily? Sticky? Fluffy?) – or our own memories of the dish, which play an important role – like the table decorations or the apron of the waitress.
Ugo: It is indeed very abstract and also very personal. When you eat something and taste it, you have on one side the actual taste – the gustatory perception – and on the other side, a memory of a particular moment connected to this taste. We try to transform these two experiences into our garments.
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Would you say synaesthesia plays an important role in your design process and/or brand identity?
Anais: Yes, I think this is accurate. We transform gustatory perceptions into something visual, following our own system.
Ugo: It is all about connecting taste, visual appearance, haptics and memories.
Your previous collection was inspired by a fictive restaurant, Zum Schwälbli, a traditional Swiss tavern. And now, you’ve presented Metzgete, which is a sort of continuation from that, only that this one is inspired by the homonymous dish, which is typical in Switzerland. Since you don’t believe in seasons (in fashion), do you believe that linking one collection to the other (thus creating a narrative thread instead of just trends) is a rebellious way to subvert the fashion calendar?
Anais: With collection 04, we started a narrative about Swiss food and, therefore, created the fictive restaurant Zum Schwälbli (which means ‘swallow’), an imaginary place built from our childhood memories, but also exemplary of rural Switzerland’s taverns. This way, each collection is a continuation of the one before. Some elements repeat and others are new.
Ugo: We want to create pieces that last longer than just one season. It is important for us to create pieces that you love to wear for a long time. The fashion calendar is so fast. Our aim is to create more sustainable and more durable garments. We believe that ‘just cool clothes’ are not enough. To us, it is important that the garments are perfectly made and well-thought-out.
The famous dish metzgete includes lots of pork meat and blood, and is actually related to the animal’s slaughter, if I’m not wrong. How have you translated this very visceral and carnivorous dish into clothes?
Anais: The collection is inspired by the rural tradition of metzgete, the special mood you find in the taverns this time of the year in the Swiss countryside. But also, mushroom dishes, pumpkin, beetroot or young wine. We use codes from hunters and hiking clothes. The dishes we refer to haven’t changed in ages, and the aesthetic of the plates or menu cards combined with memories of autumn Sundays out in the forests are what fuelled our creativity for this collection.
I’m sure vegetarians won’t be very happy about it, but as long as no animals were hurt for the collection, they can’t be really bothered – in the end, fashion takes inspiration from everywhere, even tragedy. But is there any line you wouldn’t cross? For example, taking inspiration from a food considered sacred in a certain religion.
Anais: We consciously decided to not use blood colours or transform the bloody part into clothes, but focus on the traditional background and rural autumn mood as well as the sausage shapes and umami taste. All flavoured with a dash of irony.
Ugo: We didn’t take our inspiration from the actual slaughter process, we focused on the plate as the result and the traditions surrounding it. Our concept is based on the gustatory perception – and that includes all types, vegetarians, vegans and omnivores. Of course, no animals were harmed for this collection. For example, we only used onion skins to dye the fabric.
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Going back to rebelling against the seasonal logic/system. Even though you don’t believe in it, you’re presenting your collection during Mode Suisse, which in a way, puts you inside a schedule, a season, etc. How do you feel your will to subvert that coexists with the (commercial) need of showing and producing as everyone else?
Ugo: We show our collections biannually in Switzerland and Paris during the fashion weeks. The schedule is not flexible yet and buyers buy seasonally. We subvert by creating durable design and not naming our collections after season. We refuse to create pieces which only last four months.
You also state that you don’t believe in gendered clothing. Right now, it’s unclear whether many brands are taking media’s and society’s broad conversation about gender to make more profit, or if they really believe in that – same as feminism, for example. How do you feel about this whole situation?
Anais: Our collection is based on one size chart. Smaller sizes are more likely to fit girls or skinny boys and bigger sizes are more likely to fit men or tall and curvier women. For us, the division of men and womenswear is obsolete, we make clothes for human beings. There are enough different shapes already without dividing them into girls and boys. I think that it’s important for the customer to find clothes that fit his/her style and shape, not the gender.
Ugo: To be honest, we are tired of any gender discussion. Our brand has no appendix in terms of identity. No matter what your nationality, your gender or your sexual preference is, as long as you feel empowered and happy in our clothes, we are too.
I can’t leave you without asking: what’s your favourite dish or food (in general), and your favourite restaurant (either in Basel or Berlin)?
Anais: My favourite restaurant is the Gatto Nero in Basel, a petite Italian restaurant with great food, good wines and a familiar atmosphere. My favourite food is zürigschnätzlets (fried grated potatoes with veal cutlets in cream sauce).
Ugo: My favourite dish is a simple saffron risotto with Pippo’s salsiccia and a good slice of homemade apple pie. My favourite restaurant is Gatto Nero in Basel as well, where they serve Pippo’s salsiccia.
And what’s the most inspiring food/dish, in terms of creativity/design?
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