This interview is part of DREAMERS, a collaborative project with MCQ that couples aspiring artists to their heroes for a one-on-one advice session. The conversations are recorded, redacted, and can be read in their entirety on my.mcq.com.
Wednesday, 12 May 2021, 9am Berlin-time
Matilda Sundkler: I’m curious about when you first started Ottolinger. What was the initial idea for the brand?
Cosima Gadient: We were both studying at the Basel School of Design, and we always wanted to do something on our own. Right after graduating, we were both working for others in the industry…
Christa Bösch: … and we weren’t so happy with what we did. One morning Cosima called me and said, “Hey, let’s start a brand.” I said, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s do it.” That’s how it started.
Cosima: We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, but we just had a lot of ideas and a lot of output. We knew each other a little bit, but we weren’t that close. It was really a nice journey, as our friendship and the brand started at the same time.
Christa: Initially, it was actually not even like, “let’s build up a brand”, it was just more, “let’s do one project, and then we see.” Because you first have to figure out if it works together.
Matilda: Did you work together on some projects in school as well, or was Ottolinger the first thing you did?
Cosima: We had a year in between us at school, so there were no overlapping projects. But we did run into each other and see each other’s work. So I knew Christa’s work and I always really liked it.
“The production was pretty challenging at the start, because our cuts were not so standard and factories were more hesitant to take us on. ” – Christa Bösch
Christa: But yes, Ottolinger was the first project together.
Matilda: What was the most challenging part of starting the brand for you? Would you have any advice to young creatives that are in that kind of process?
Cosima: One thing is thinking about how you will manage it financially, and perhaps having a goal or target. Thinking about what you’re missing, why, and where you want to place yourself.
Christa: For us, the production was pretty challenging at the start, because our cuts were not so standard and factories were more hesitant to take us on. And if you produce only 10 pieces instead of hundreds, no one is interested. So it takes a bit of time to find people who really like to work with you and produce your pieces because it’s not gonna be big money for them in the first years.
Cosima: We just had really strong ideas like, “okay, I really want to burn this garment.” Looking back it’s a bit silly, but I think that also made us what we are because we were still gonna burn it. In the end, to really produce it, we ended up burning for months in the backyard, because no factory wanted to produce burnt garments. OK, perhaps not ‘no one’, but very few people. So that was also fun to do. But looking back, we really put extra stones in our way and made it extra hard.
Christa: In the end, I think the advice is to just do it. Because sometimes you limit yourself thinking about money or strategy for days on end. But if you just do it, believe in it, and work really hard and don’t burn yourself… that kind of worked for us.
Cosima: It may sound a little bit cheesy to say ‘just go for it’, but if you really have the desire, then make the decision to do what you want to do. When we really want to do something, we will get up earlier in the morning, we’ll just go and do it. And by doing it every day, it will pay off somehow.
“We are lucky that it’s the two of us because usually we are not stressed at the same time, and we can try to take the stress away from the other person by putting things in a different perspective.” – Cosima Gadient
Matilda: Was the first collection also the first one that you started to produce?
Christa: We won the VFiles Prize in 2016, which was the first collection, and after this, we got the first orders and started to produce, but only a really small amount.
Matilda: During this process of starting the brand, I suppose you were dealing with a lot of stress and pressure. How did you approach that during the time, and how do you deal with it today?
Cosima: I feel more secure today. I think we are lucky that it’s the two of us because usually we are not stressed at the same time, and we can try to take the stress away from the other person by putting things in a different perspective. It’s also important to have time off work and have free time that is not connected to the work you do. We sometimes cook together or talk about something else, and have a little vacation… It’s not to be lazy or anything, but if you give yourself free time, it will give you more time afterwards. So if you’re really stressed, maybe you need to balance it out with something else.
Christa: For me, if I’m stressed and I call my mom, she’s like, “Okay, zoom out.” It’s your job, and it’s fast, and you really put your heart into it, but actually, if you zoom out, it’s not the end of the world if something does not work out.
Matilda: Thinking about the fashion industry, it’s often focused on the single genius behind a brand. And since you are doing things side-by-side I’m curious about how you share the creative process, and if it was always obvious that you should work in a duo or a collective or with friends.
Christa: I think neither of us worked in a duo or with friends before we did a project together. And I think you need a lot of respect for each other.
Cosima: Something I noticed is that when people become part of our team, after some time there is something with the inclusive work dynamics we share in our entire studio. It’s something that we do together, and we didn’t know we were able to do that before. That is giving us so much and it really feels good. Maybe it’s old fashioned to think of the genius mastermind, because the times are also changing and it’s more about an emotion and how you feel while it lasts. So why are you there? Why are you participating? Why are you creating it? That is an important thing, because the world is really tough right now, and everything feels a bit upside down.
Christa: And also, would you really like to be the one star in a team? I mean, not me.
Cosima: I can understand why people like this idea. Like being young and wanting to become a famous actor or something like that. Fashion history has these iconic designers, but I was never really interested in that.
Christa: Because it’s very much about teamwork. Without our production manager, we would not be here anymore, even though the ideas we have could be amazing.
“In school everyone gets trained as a creative director, but there are not so many positions for that in the industry.” – Christa Bösch
Cosima: Maybe it’s also different if you go and design for a bigger house where a structure already exists. But if you lead a young company like ours, you cannot behave like a star because no one will want to work and stick with you.
Christa: How is it for you? Would you like to be the one star?
Matilda: Not at all, I’m a super shy person as well. If I’m ever going to start my own thing, I would for sure want to do it together with someone else. But I have experienced that the rock star idea is still very alive in this industry. I guess that’s also why many people are starting their own brands as individuals, but they are struggling because it’s a hell of a lot of work for one single person to manage on their own.
Christa: Yes, and also in school everyone gets trained as a creative director, but there are not so many positions for that in the industry.
“In a way, working together is also about personal growth, that you let a person be so close and criticise your work, but you don’t get offended; you kind of respect it, accept it, and grow with it.” – Christa Bösch
Cosima: There are so many nice parts within the industry that don’t get treated as interesting or as high up in the hierarchy. Looking back, it was always like the only thing you want to do is become the head designer of the house. This is not a bad position, but there are so many other parts that just get forgotten.
Matilda: I am also wondering how it works practically to co-design between you guys.
Cosima: Christa does a lot of draping, and then maybe I work more on prints and garments, and we discuss things a lot. You have to split up the process because you can’t do everything together, as it doesn’t make sense. It’s also a benefit that we can zoom out and have the overall vision together, and not be working on the same thing at the same time. But while we’re working in the studio, we can have an immediate response to, “Hey, what do you think about that?”
“It becomes greater than what you think you can do. That feels so much better than being stuck with an idea.” – Cosima Gadient
Matilda: Which part of the process do you think gains the most from being two?
Christa: In a way, working together is also about personal growth, that you let a person be so close and criticise your work, but you don’t get offended; you kind of respect it, accept it, and grow with it.
Cosima: It becomes greater than what you think you can do. That feels so much better than being stuck with an idea.
Matilda: Would you say that you share the motivation of running the brand?
Cosima: You have to, otherwise…
Christa: …you will not be here!
Matilda: How has your idea about the creative process developed during the time running Ottolinger, in comparison to when you were freshly graduated?
Christa: We realised that we have to sell! [Laughs]
Cosima: Maybe in the beginning doing something commercial seemed ‘too easy’. And now it’s like, yeah, maybe we can go a little bit more ‘easy’, because people have a lot of question marks looking at the work, and that doesn’t really help us to grow the business part.
“Social media has also democratised that aspect – you can literally sit in a little village in Switzerland and start your brand. ” – Cosima Gadient
Matilda: Has your idea of the industry changed since you started?
Cosima: Of course the pandemic recently has changed things like fashion weeks, but it feels that today there is more room for independent brands than a few years ago. But maybe that’s just because we’re at the point where we are, and that’s our perspective towards things.
Christa: It’s also that there’s more options for how you present a collection.
Cosima: Social media has also democratised that aspect – you can literally sit in a little village in Switzerland and start your brand. And, in theory, you reach as many people as you would in Paris. This phenomenon has changed and shaped the industry a bit differently, and that also allows you to work with less budget, and to be kind of secluded somewhere. I really think social media and the internet has helped us to be in touch with the community, to present our work, and to shape up.
Matilda: If somebody would apply for an internship at Ottolinger, what would you look at in the portfolio’s you’re receiving? Or is there anything that you would prioritise?
Christa: For us, it’s very important that everyone who’s working on our team is organised and trustful. In terms of the portfolio, if the work is messy and not organised…
Cosima: Our work can be perceived as wild and messy, or just like super crafty. So we receive portfolios that are just [sound of an explosion], cute, but if we can’t read anything, then it’s super hard for us to understand what’s going on. So even though your work might be on the crazy side, it’s nice if you know how to structure it in a way that we understand what the work is, because that’s also what we need to do with our work. If everything will be as crazy as the clothes sometimes are, we wouldn’t be where we are now; we need to also put the structure and order in that little bit.
Matilda: Yes, I can definitely see how that could happen, when you are trying to target the brand with your portfolio. Thank you so much for answering all my questions, it’s been really great speaking with you!
Interested in learning more? You can find all the interviews from the DREAMER series here.