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Ottolinger:
Destruction as Research

Words by
Anastasiia Fedorova
24.09.2019

Founded by Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient, Berlin-based brand Ottolinger brings an avant-garde and destructive challenge to luxury fashion, creating a signature style in which raw margins, burnt holes, rips and cuts convey the poetics of destruction and manipulation.

One of Ottolinger’s signature pieces is a white ruffled sweater partly destroyed by fire. With the fabric’s delicate charred edges, a bit of skin showing through burnt holes, the design is poetic, sexual and arrestingly beautiful. Destruction has been an integral part of the label’s vision: raw margins; rips and cuts; hanging threads; bags that look like they’re made of melted plastic. In the world of Ottolinger, destruction is not so much an act of rebellion as it is a research method, a pathway to creating the new kind of beauty for our similarly distorted melting world. Moreover, Ottolinger’s destruction is carefully calculated—that is, at least to the extent possible. “Burning is a process that can only be controlled up to a certain point. We find it beautiful how fire makes its way through the garment. Of course, sometimes we try something and it doesn’t work, but we continue until we find the garment beautiful and interesting—or we start a new experiment,” explain designers Christa Bösch and Cosima Gadient. “It’s very surprising what we find when we deconstruct or manipulate a garment. It can be a lining, a colour or a finishing that we didn’t expect. Through this process of deconstruction, we discover our way of beauty.” Originally from Switzerland, Christa and Cosima met while studying at the Basel School of Design and established Ottolinger in 2016. The name appeared almost by chance: it was on the mailbox the designers shared with the neighboring apartment at their first studio in Berlin, and they decided to keep it, as it looked nice on parcels. Under the name of someone who might have no connection to fashion, Ottolinger was nominated for the LVMH Prize in 2018, only two years into the label’s existence.

From the beginning, the duo’s output was impossible to ignore because of the topics it raised—body and sex appeal, the changing ideas of glamor, the erosion of high and low aesthetics in fashion—but it’s the garments that have always been at the forefront. Ottolinger designs simply looked like nothing else. A dress made from textured brown lace or acid-washed neon green distressed jeans might look ugly at the first glance; five seconds later, you realize that you simply can’t live without these garments and have to own them. “When we started Ottolinger, we didn’t have access to a wide range of garments, colors, and textures,” the designers remember. “That’s why we started to develop and manipulate the materials we could get our hands on. This process ultimately created unique fabrics and colors—and it’s also super fun. For us, having unique textures and colors is a luxury, and a big part of the Ottolinger universe.” Based in Berlin and showing on schedule at Paris Fashion Week, Ottolinger belongs to the current time more than it does to a certain place, although Switzerland is certainly an influence when it comes to the physical aspect of the label. “Switzerland works as our archive, where we can go back and find something we love and incorporate it into our collection. Switzerland has a huge textile tradition, with embroidery and handicrafts, which we both love. Not in a nostalgic way, but more as a translation into the present and future.” At the same time, Ottolinger’s creativity clearly spans beyond fashion. Both the label’s presentations and design often incorporate techniques of contemporary art (e.g., showing a collection in a disused shop draped in plastic or sculpting handbags during a pottery class). “It’s the dialogue which inspires us, and it’s important to hear creatives from other contemporary movements,” the designers point out. “We also read a lot as books, especially fiction and fantasy, because we love to delve into new worlds and discover different universes. For example, The Three Body Problem by Chinese writer Liu Cixin was a big inspiration for our Autumn-Winter 2019 collection.”
In the end, what makes Ottolinger a truly cutting-edge label is the fluidity of their practice and the constant process of trial and error which creates unprecedented authenticity. When asked if they have a favorite garment, the designers don’t have a straightforward answer. “It changes all the time,” they muse. “But mostly it’s the pieces which we have had the most struggle to develop.”

Photography by Nadine Fraczkowski.
Images courtesy of Ottolinger and Ritual Projects.

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